April 8, 2010 at 5:02 pm EDT | by Kevin Naff
Health news in brief

U.S. senators seek review of FDA’s gay blood ban

WASHINGTON — A group of 18 U.S. senators, led by John Kerry (D-Mass.), wrote last month to the Food & Drug Administration, the agency that regulates the nation’s blood supply, to review what they called “outdated, medically and scientifically unsound deferral criteria” that exclude gay donors, according to a report in the Kansas City Star.

The FDA said it is “actively engaged in re-examining the issue of blood donor deferral” among gay men.

“Taking into account the current body of scientific information … we are considering the possibility of pursuing alternative strategies that maintain blood safety,” a recent FDA statement said.

A Health & Human Services advisory committee on blood safety plans to review the issue in June.

The federal government mandated a lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men in the 1980s. The rationale was that HIV can be spread through blood transfusions, and gay men are more likely to carry HIV than the general population. But increasingly sophisticated tests are making it easier to detect HIV and a movement has begun seeking an end to the lifetime ban and bring the rules for gay blood donors more in line with restrictions placed on other potentially risky donors, according to the Kansas City Star report.

The FDA’s ban began in 1983, when blood collection facilities began telling donors to refrain from donating blood if they were in any of the groups at high risk of AIDS infection. But the rule for gay men excludes blood donations by all men who have had sex with another man, even one time, since 1977.

Obscure California law seeks cure for homosexuality

LOS ANGELES — A quirky California law requires health experts to find a cure for homosexuality and one lawmaker is working to overturn it.

Bonnie Lowenthal, author of Assembly Bill 2199, represents Long Beach in the California Assembly, and wrote a piece this week for the Los Angeles Times about the origins of the obscure 60-year-old law.

The law came in response to public outcry over sex crimes in California, specifically the molestation-murder of a 6-year-old girl, Lowenthal wrote, but the murderer was not a gay man and there was no connection between the crime and homosexuality.

“Well-meaning California legislators passed a law that not only required health officials to seek ‘the causes and cures of homosexuality,’” she wrote, “but likened people who are gay to child molesters. Amazingly, it’s still on the books. You might call it ‘Linda’s Law.’”

Linda Joyce Glucoft went out to play after dinner on Nov. 14, 1949, and never came home. She was raped and murdered by the grandfather of one of her playmates, a repeat sex offender, according to Lowenthal, and even before the killer had been sentenced to death, Gov. Earl Warren called a special session of the Legislature to deal with the issue of sexual predators. Lawmakers ordered the state’s mental hospitals and universities to find a solution.

“It was at this step, as the Legislature defined the role of science in solving the ‘sexual psychopath’ problem, that gay people — simply because they vexed the psychiatric profession — were swept up in the net,” Lowenthal explained. “In 1950, homosexuality remained, officially, a mental disorder. So when the Legislature promised funding for a study into the causes and cures of sexual deviance, it was, tragically, natural to add homosexuality to the list.”

One of the bills Warren signed included a command that the “Department of Mental Hygiene plan, conduct and cause to be conducted scientific research into the causes and cures of sexual deviation, including deviations conducive to sex crimes against children, and the causes and cures of homosexuality, and methods of identifying potential sex offenders.”

Assembly Bill 2199, authored by Lowenthal, seeks to overturn the law. It was set for its first hearing this week after DC Agenda deadline.

San Francisco backs early antiretroviral drugs for HIV

SAN FRANCISCO — The city’s Department of Public Health is expected to release new guidelines that call for HIV-positive patients to begin taking antiretroviral drugs as soon as they are diagnosed, the New York Times reported.

Previous guidelines directed physicians to delay antiretroviral treatment, due to potential side effects.

The new policy follows research that early HIV treatment can help patients live longer and decrease their likelihood of experiencing health complications such as cancer, heart disease or kidney failure, the Times reported.

Under the new guidelines, people who test positive for HIV will be offered combination antiretroviral therapy. Antiretroviral drugs currently cost about $12,000 per year and account for about $350 million of the California AIDS Drug Assistance Plan’s budget, according to the Times story.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

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