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For 32 years, gay and bisexual men in the U.S. have not been allowed to donate blood. Today, the Food and Drug Administration relaxed that ban. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the details.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Gay and bisexual men were banned for life from giving blood in the early days of the AIDS epidemic to protect people getting blood transfusions from getting HIV. But gay rights advocates have been urging the FDA to lift the ban for years. They say it's discriminatory and unnecessary because blood donors can be screened for the AIDS virus. But others have urged the FDA to keep the ban, saying infected people can slip through. After weighing both arguments, the FDA's Peter Marks announced a new policy in a telephone briefing.
PETER MARKS: Relying on sound scientific evidence, we've taken great care to ensure the revised policy continues to protect our blood supply.
STEIN: The new policy lifts the lifetime ban but still makes it hard - really hard - for gay or bisexual men to donate. They can only give blood if they've been celibate for at least one year. Kelsey Louie heads the Gay Men's Health Crisis advocacy group. He isn't pleased.
KELSEY LOUIE: It perpetuates the stigma that HIV is a gay disease.
STEIN: That's because, he says, gay or bisexual men in monogamous relationships may be much safer donors than, say, promiscuous heterosexuals. But others praise the new policy as a reasonable compromise. Kenrad Nelson is an FDA adviser at Johns Hopkins.
KENRAD NELSON: The gay community - and many people view blood donation as a - like a civil right (laughter), and I don't think it is.
STEIN: Nelson points out that he can't donate blood for a year after he returns from countries where he might've gotten infected with malaria. The FDA says it will monitor the new policy to see if the restrictions could eventually be relaxed even more. Rob Stein, NPR News.
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