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Experts debate lifting blood donation ban on gay men in stable relationships

May 27, 2010 |  9:53 am

Men who have sex with men are not permitted to donate blood in the United States, Canada and many other countries. This ban was designed to stop the spread of HIV through blood transfusions and was implemented with broad support in 1983.

Blood But times have changed, and the rule no longer makes sense, say experts in HIV research writing in the current issue of the Canadian Medical Assn. Journal. The ban on donations from gay men was necessary early in the HIV epidemic when there was no way to screen for HIV antibodies in blood and the disease was appearing largely in that group.

But rigorous screening tests now exist, and rules permit people in stable, monogamous relationships to donate blood even though HIV infection now occurs in a broad swath of people, both homosexual and heterosexual. "...donors who have had heterosexual unprotected sex with multiple partners are not necessarily prevented from donating, provided the heterosexual donor claims to be aware of the sexual background of each of his or her sexual partners," the authors wrote.

Similarly, gay men in stable, long-term monogamous relationships should be allowed to donate blood after a deferral period -- a waiting period -- of one year, the editorial states. Allowing this group to donate would increase the blood supply while not significantly endangering it. They estimate that allowing gay men to donate after a one-year deferral period would result in a risk of HIV in one unit of blood for every 11 million units collected.

The ban on donations from gay men is a matter of growing controversy. Both the HIV Medical Assn. in the United States, the American Red Cross and the American Assn. of Blood Banks has expressed support for a change in rules to allow donation after a deferral period.

"The current policy is counterproductive in terms of loss of donors, loss of good will, student protests, donor boycotts and lawsuits, among other negative effects," the authors wrote.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Julie Markes  /  For The Times