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Bloom’s Resolution Supporting Gay Male Blood Donors Passes Assembly

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By Lookout Staff

August 27, 2014 -- For more than 30 years, men who have had sex with men have been banned from donating blood due to a fear of HIV and AIDS infection. Democrat Richard Bloom, Santa Monica’s former mayor and current representative in the State Assembly, wants to eliminate that restriction.

The Assembly late last week approved a resolution introduced by Bloom that calls for the federal government to “repeal the current donor suitability policies … and instead direct the [Food and Drug Administration] to develop science-based policies.”

The resolution was approved by a vote of 56 to 9. All but one of the opponents was a Republican. The lone dissenting Democratic vote came from Steve Fox, who represents a portion of the Antelope Valley.

The resolution is now being considered by the State Senate.

During his speech on the Assembly floor in favor of the resolution, Bloom said he learned from his father that it is good to donate blood. He called it “one of the highest forms of being able to give back to our fellow human beings.”

“The ban against gay and bisexual donors is outdated and discriminatory, but most importantly it prevents healthy men from giving blood even though our country often experiences chronic blood shortages,” Bloom said.

Assembly member Richard Pan, a medical doctor from Northern California, said the ban was not based on science and there was no proof it makes the country’s blood supply safer.

No assembly member spoke in opposition to the resolution.

The FDA approved the ban in 1983. All men who have had sex with another man since 1977 are prohibited from donating blood for life. There are restrictions on other groups of people, but few are banned forever.

Supporters of lifting the ban, or at least changing it, say it is a rule created in a time when there was no HIV and AIDS detection test. It has been alleged that anti-homosexuality is a reason for the rule remaining in effect. The FDA says testing is still not 100 percent accurate and homosexual men have a higher risk of being infected.

“Men who have had sex with other men represent approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population, yet are the population most severely affected by HIV,” the FDA’s website says.

The FDA says it is open to changing the policy, but “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 its website.

An advisory committee to the federal Health and Human Services Department, of which the FDA is a part, voted four years ago to continue with the policy and research whether alternatives would be effective.

“When the results and data from the studies are available and potential policy revisions are brought forward for consideration, [Health and Human Services] intends to provide opportunities for discussion in a public forum,” the FDA’s website says.

Several organizations say the ban should be changed. The American Medical Association voted last year in favor of modification.

"The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science," AMA Board of Trustees member William Koble said in a statement released after the vote.

An event called the National Gay Blood Drive took place last month in several locations throughout the country, including locally in West Hollywood. Gay men were accompanied by people who could donate blood. One of the purposes of the event was to show there are many gay men who would donate if there were no restriction.

In response to the event, the American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks issued a joint statement saying the rule should be modified. The organizations support a one-year deferral for men who have had sex with another man.

“We strongly support the use of rational, science-based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among blood donors who engage in similar risk activities,” the statement says.

Deferral is the policy in several nations, including Canada (five years) and the United Kingdom (one year). Other countries have no ban at all, including Italy and Mexico.

Several activists say a deferral policy is not good enough because it would still restrict men from having sex with other men regularly and being able to donate blood.

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