Reviewing the blood donor rule for gay men

    A federal rule that prohibits sexually active gay men from donating blood is up for review once again.

    A federal rule that prohibits sexually active gay men from donating blood is up for review once again.

    If you’re are a man who’s had sex with a man anytime since 1977, you’re supposed to skip that workplace blood drive.

    Robert Winn is medical director for Philadelphia’s Mazzoni Center, which cares for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people.

    He says the rule is antiquated.

    Every pints gets screened, and so it doesn’t matter how you answer the questions on the questionnaire before you donate the blood. Every pint is screened for Hepatitis A, B and C and also for HIV. I want people to understand that this would not change the safety of the blood supply, because the testing isn’t going to change, it’s just allowing a different group of people to donate.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration twice upheld the ban, while advocates for a change say lifting the ban would help ease blood supply shortages.

    The American Red Cross has pushed the FDA to relax the rule, and make restrictions for gay men consistent with the rules for anyone who has a high risk of HIV exposure.

    Winn says the rule, which was established in the 1980s, is out of date.

    Winn: When HIV was first discovered, and gay men were getting sick and dying all the time, it made a lot of sense because they really didn’t know what was happening or how to screen. We certainly know how to screen now. It’s time for this policy to go away and for us to donate blood, if we so feel.

    A new study shows that lifting the rule would boost the blood supply by about 1 percent each year. Demographer Gary Gates led the study at the UCLA school of law.

    He says the increase is modest but could ease chronic shortages.

    Gates: Some other groups out there have suggested that this is a very kind of stigmatizing ban particularly for gay men and it doesn’t make sense to have the ban as restrictive as it is.

    Federal advisors have said relaxing the rule would increase the number of people with HIV who donate and up the chances that the virus will be missed during screening.

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