Debate over ban on gay blood donations gets personal

By : Wire Report
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Sacramento, CA (AP) – A California lawmaker drew from experience in an unusually personal debate over federal rules governing whether gay or bisexual men can donate blood.

Senators voted Sept. 3 to ask President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to repeal current U.S. Food and Drug Administration policies prohibiting men who have had sex with men from donating blood.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who is gay, recalled how years ago he was prepared to give blood but was blocked by rules that grew out of the AIDS crisis, when the virus was believed in the 1980s to primarily be spread among gay men. He noted that the rules allow donations by heterosexual men who may engage in risky sex, but they block donations by men like himself who are HIV-free.

“It gets to the core of the discrimination, the fear that historically has existed, finally and slowly dissipating about who gay people are and that there is something dangerous about my blood,” Leno said.

Testing for disease instead of certain behavior would help promote blood donations, he said: “There’s no scientific-based reason why we should have blood shortages.”

Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, a medical doctor, said the current rule was adopted during “a time of uncertainty and I would say fear.”

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, who is as conservative as Leno is liberal, supported the resolution.

“There’s many things risky and dangerous about the floor manager, but his blood isn’t one of them,” Anderson said, referring to Leno. “Too many lives can be saved if we allowed more people to participate.”

The resolution, AJR16, initially passed on a 30-6 vote. In an unusual second roll call, it again passed, 31-4, as several senators changed their votes.

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