Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Thanks, but No Thanks

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Thanks, but No Thanks

Article excerpt

Citing a 16-year-old ban, the American Red Cross still won't accept blood donations from sexually active gay men

Like hundreds of thousands of other people across the nation, Phillip Bartell wanted to donate blood after the terrorist attacks in September.

"Because I live in Los Angeles," he said, "I thought giving blood would be the most immediate way to do something. But I heard from friends that because I'm gay, I might not be allowed to give."

Indeed, even though blood banks all over the country pleaded for donations in the wake of the attacks, not everyone is welcome to give--even if they are healthy. The Food and Drug Administration regulates donor screening procedures for all American blood banks and since 1985 has designated noncelibate gay men as one of the high-risk groups not allowed to give blood. All blood banks must ask male potential donors whether they've had sex with another man, even once, since 1977. Any man who answers yes is permanently barred from giving blood.

"I think that most gay men are unaware of this policy and are shocked when the question is posed at a blood collection site," said Stephen Goldstone, MD, who specializes in treating gay men. "They go to blood-drawing sites with the best intentions and then leave feeling like a pariah."

The FDA cites high HIV infection rates among gay men as justification for the heavy-handed regulation and says the "window period" between initial infection and the time at which HIV is detectable in blood--up to two months--necessitates preemptive measures to eliminate high-risk donors. Critics, however, argue that the ban is based on outdated medical practices.

"The ban came out during the panic of the mid '80s, when many people contracted HIV from blood transfusions and before we had good HIV testing methods," explained Goldstone, who noted that current testing procedures can detect HIV in blood with over 99% accuracy. …

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