My blood is ‘gay’, is that ok?

Apparently not, in the UK or US. On June 10-11 the Federal Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability will reconsider the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) 1983 ban on accepting ‘gay' blood or the blood from any man who has had sex with a man (MSM) since 1977.

World Blood Donor Day takes place on June 14 and this year's campaign is "New blood for the world" with targeted efforts to get youth worldwide to donate blood not just on June 14 but more regularly without rewards. To be a blood donor, there is a long list of factors that first have to be considered that could make you ineligible for varying periods of time, that can range from traveling/living outside of the US, medications, MSM, cocaine-use, piercings, tattoos, even electrolysis.

The current ban on ‘gay' blood is centered on men's sexual orientation rather than lifestyle. On March 9, 18 US senators including former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry urged the FDA to address their "outdated" policy according to the news network CNN on May 26. Kerry wrote, "a heterosexual who has had sex with a prostitute need only wait a year [before giving blood]. That does not strike me as a sound scientific conclusion" given that "gay men, including those who are in monogamous relationships, are forbidden from contributing blood for the rest of their lives."

However the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to show MSM as the highest risk group in HIV transmission and claim that gay men are 15 times more likely to have HIV than the rest of the population.

And, Jay Brooks, MD, professor of pathology at the University of Texas Health Science Center, explained this is about science not about gay rights, adding it has "nothing to do with someone being gay. Any group that's epidemiologically at risk of making blood unsafe, it's unfortunate. ... It's a matter of epidemiology."

Brooks continued, "The interest of the recipient is greater than any donor" and "I'd hate to tell the one person who got HIV through a blood transfusion, 'Sorry, we changed the regulation.' "

Technologies and practices in blood screenings have come a long way since the hemophilia blood contamination catastrophe of the late 1970s and early 1980s where companies were soliciting blood from high-risk individuals including prisoners and junkies.

Various organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and the American Red Cross, agree that safety is paramount and each and every donor needs to be screened equally irrespective of the sex of their partner. They also agree with Kerry that gay men, who have been cleared the same way heterosexual men are, should be allowed to donate blood and not be banned for life.

For more information on blood donor requirements contact your local Red Cross office or blood bank; here is a list of the constantly changing US requirements: http://www.bloodbook.com/donr-requir.html

To learn more about donating blood and World Blood Donor Day go to: http://www.who.int/worldblooddonorday/en  http://www.fullblooded.org/blood-donor-world-day

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