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Gay Men Condemn Blood Ban

Gay Men Condemn Blood Ban

While the Food and Drug Administration mulls whether to allow gay men to donate blood, adherents on both sides of the question continue to press their case to the agency and to the public at large.

"No one has a right to give blood," said Steven Kleinman, senor medical adviser to the American Association of Blood Banks, which opposes the current ban on such donations. "But we have to ask the question, Are there ethical fairness issues involved?"

An FDA advisory committee in June recommended against lifting the ban, and a spokesperson said the agency typically follows such committee recommendations. She did not provide a timetable for the FDA decision.

The FDA over the years has reviewed and sustained the ban, citing the prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men and limitations of testing blood for the virus. The agency's stance is supported most notably by the hemophilia community.

"We appreciate the altruism of those wishing to donate," said Mark Skinner, president of the World Federation of Hemophilia. "Currently, we don't have answers to change the system, but through research we may be able to answer the critical questions in a way that would allow adapting the system."

Others say the ban is medically and scientifically unjustified. These critics include Sen. John Kerry and 17 other senators who sent a letter to the FDA saying the ban ignored the difference between safe and unprotected sexual activity by gay men.

Testing technology has improved greatly since the ban was implemented in the 1980s, critics note. Many support a requirement that a man defer blood donation for a year after having sex with another man, a provision that would align screening for gay men with that of others who have engaged in high-risk behavior.

"Turning away perfectly good donors gives an incorrect and harmful message about transmission risk," said Bebe Anderson, HIV project director for Lambda Legal, an advocacy organization that opposes the ban.

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