Restrictions on Giving Blood by Gays Continued

Article excerpt

Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Following two days of testimony, a federal panel voted against recommending changes to ease the current restrictions on blood donation by gay men, saying more research was needed to help create a road map forward for future change.

By a 9-6 vote, members of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability agreed Friday to continue the current donor policy, which rejects blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man - a category known as MSM - even once in the past 33 years.

Gay rights groups and others say the 25-year-old policy is needlessly discriminatory, and the American Red Cross and other blood-collecting groups support a shorter deferral policy, down to as little as 12 months. But blood-user groups lobbied to keep the current policy, saying further research is needed.

The panel's nonbinding recommendations will be brought to another panel led by Dr. Howard Koh, HHS assistant secretary of health.

HHS recommendations will then go through the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulatory process, said Jerry Holmberg, executive secretary for the panel.

It's up to the FDA to issue appropriate guidelines on blood safety, Mr. Holmberg said. We can't give you a timeline for when anything will happen.

In its written recommendations, the panel agreed that the current deferral policies for MSM donors are suboptimal, but current research cannot support change to a specific alternative policy. Therefore, without further evaluation, the committee recommends that the current policy .. not be changed at the present time

The panel then suggested numerous research projects to create a road map forward, as one panelist called it.

These included suggestions to study how blood-donor questionnaires might be changed to distinguish low-risk MSM donors and heterosexuals from high-risk ones, and what would happen if donors were pre-screened with a small blood test before they donated blood for human use.

The panel also said it needed to explore what would happen in the massive worldwide distribution of U.S. blood products if the U.S. authorities changed their MSM donor standards. …