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Ban upheld: Gay and bisexual men still cannot donate blood

WASHINGTON – The federal ban that keeps gay and bisexual men from donating blood will remain in effect despite powerful pleas from gay rights advocates and politicians led by Sen. John Kerry.

The Health and Human Services Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted 9-6 on Friday to keep the lifetime ban.

The decision brought widespread criticism, including by the American Red Cross and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

“The American Red Cross is disappointed with the decision made by the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary's Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability not to recommend a change to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) policy of a lifetime deferral for men who have sex with other men.

"While the Red Cross is obligated by law to follow the guidelines set forth by the FDA, we also strongly support the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among donors who engage in similar risk activities,” the American Red Cross said in a statement.

The HRC weighed in, too.

“We are disappointed that after its meeting, the Advisory Committee chose to preserve a policy that turns away healthy gay and bisexual donors, one we continue to believe is not scientifically justified,” HRC President Joe Solmonese said.

“However, the committee recognized that the current policy is inadequate and the Department of Health and Human Services must immediately commit its resources to research that will allow our nation to adopt a fair and safe blood donation policy.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) expressed anger and deep disappointment in the vote.

"This decision is outrageous, irresponsible and archaic. We expect more out of this advisory committee and this administration than to uphold an unnecessarily discriminatory policy from another era,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the NGLTF.

"We've said it before: The most critical issue is to ensure that the blood supply is safe and abundant, and this means maximizing the potential donor pool and making sure all donors are screened appropriately and assessed based on actual behavioral risk independent of their sexual orientation.

“The committee's decision (Friday) not only leaves a discriminatory practice in place, it also puts lives at risk," Carey said.