As Valentine’s Day blood donations fall short, FDA ban still thorny for gays

It was more white than red that dominated Valentine’s Day this year as severe winter weather blanketed much of the U.S. with traffic-snarling snow and ice. Along with floral delivery trucks that struggled to make their rounds with red roses, the American Red Cross felt the storm’s impact too: more than 750 blood drives were cancelled, leaving at least 25,000 blood and platelet donations uncollected.

The setback is the latest in a string of blood supply shortages in recent years – with the summer of 2012 seeing the lowest level in more than a decade – further prompting LGBT advocates to ask why would-be male donors who have had gay sex are banned from donating.

Last summer, the organization Second Class Citizens hosted a “National Gay Blood Drive” event in major cities across the U.S. to draw attention to the issue.  Another drive is scheduled for July 11.

The Food and Drug Administration’s lifetime ban first went into effect in 1977 after an HIV/AIDS pandemic was first linked to gay communities. The FDA has stated that the ban would be eased “only if supported by scientific data showing that a change in policy would not present a significant and preventable risk to blood recipients.”

According to the Red Cross website, every unit of donated blood is tested for infectious disease markers, including HIV. With the current exclusion of gay males, it estimates 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate, although less than 10 percent actually do each year.

The American Medical Association voted in opposition of the ban policy in June. One of its members, William Kobler, said it was “discriminatory and not based on sound science.”

In September, at least 80 members of Congress wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services denouncing the ban as outdated and unfair to gay men who practice safe sex.

What do you think? Should the ban remain in place? Reply with your comments below; find contact information for your Congressional representatives here.

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