BLOOD DONATIONS: Gays Protest Their Ineligibility
Gay activists are increasingly decrying a practice they call an artifact of the early years of the HIV epidemic: screening prospective male blood donors to determine if they have had sex with other men since 1977, and barring those who have. Wayne Turner of the Washington, DC, branch of ACT-UP said, "This question is one of these vestiges from the early years of the epidemic, when public policy was driven by ignorance. Gay men are having sex, but they're having safe sex." Protests and discrimination lawsuits have sprung up in recent months in Washington, DC, upstate New York, the University of California-Santa Barbara, and Quebec City. Activists argue that the questionnaire -- specifically Question No. 14, which deals with gay sex -- "stigmatizes homosexuals, invites donors to lie and send the wrong public health message to people in groups increasingly at risk for infection."
Dr. Eric Goosby, HHS director of HIV/AIDS policy, said, "It is both a scientific and a political-social issue," adding that "any new policy would have to clear several federal committees and Surgeon General David Satcher before HHS Secretary Donna Shalala makes a final decision." F. Blaine Hollinger, chair of the FDA's blood products advisory committee, said, "To maintain a safe blood supply, you need to reject some donors who are perfectly healthy. There are some political issues, but what else is new? No one wants to be wrong." The FDA's Andrew Dayton said, "You would take this double or triple risk, and the benefit you would get from it would be a less than 1% increase in the blood supply." Gay physicians have conceded the quandary posed by the issue. Dr. Michael Horberg, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, said, "As a gay man who is HIV-negative, I would definitely love to be able to perform my civic duty and donate. But I do understand the passions people have in this case and their desire to make sure the blood supply stays extra secure" (Goldstein, Washington Post, 7/6).