June 11, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Committee votes against lifting gay blood donor ban

An advisory committee examining whether to lift the ban preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood has voted against changing the policy.

On Friday, the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability, which provides recommendations to the Department of Health & Human Services on blood safety and blood products, voted 9-6 against recommending to allow gay and bisexual to donate blood. The committee cited insufficient scientific data to support a change.

Still, by a 14-0 vote, the committee acknowledged that the current policy is imperfect and recommended additional research to support a policy that would allow low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate.

The committee came to the conclusion after hearing two days of testimony on whether testing proceedings and societal changes have advanced enough to permit for a change in policy.

The FDA instituted the blood donor ban in 1983 in response to the AIDS crisis. The policy prohibits any man who’s had sex even once with another man since 1977 from donating blood. At the time, the policy was deemed necessary because gay and bisexual men have a higher rate of HIV/AIDS infection.

LGBT rights supporters have been seeking to overturn the ban on the grounds that it unfairly targets gay and bisexual men — and that testing procedures for HIV/AIDS have improved significantly since 1983.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the committee’s recommendations will go to Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh for consideration.

In a statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization is “disappointed” the committee chose to preserve a policy that “turns away healthy gay and bisexual donors.”

“However, the Committee recognized that the current policy is inadequate and the Department of Health and Human Services must immediately commit its resources to research that will allow our nation to adopt a fair and safe blood donation policy,” Solmonese said.

Expressing anger the committee’s decision was Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.

“This decision is outrageous, irresponsible and archaic,” she said. “We expect more out of this advisory committee and this administration than to uphold an unnecessarily discriminatory policy from another era.”

The Blade will have a more complete report on the way forward for lifting the blood donor ban next week.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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