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FDA Reconsiders Ban on Gays Donating Blood

Laura Jackson, 27, of Denver, Colo. squeezes a heart as she donates blood.Marc Piscotty / Marc Piscotty for msnbc.com

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Blood safety experts expressed concern on Tuesday about lifting the nation's 31-year-old ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, despite growing pressure from gay rights advocates, medical experts and blood banks. The ban dates from the first years of the AIDS crisis and was intended to protect the U.S. blood supply from exposure to the little-understood disease. But many medical groups, including the American Medical Association, say the policy is no longer supported by science, given advances in HIV testing. And gay activists say the lifetime ban is discriminatory and perpetuates negative stereotypes against homosexual men.

Still, blood safety experts urged the Food and Drug Administration to exercise caution in making any changes to current policy, saying the impact on the blood supply is difficult to predict. The FDA is not required to follow its advisers’ recommendations. The agency has not set a timeline for making any changes.

The hesitancy voiced by FDA's advisers is out of step with other parts of the federal government, which have been steadily moving toward reconsidering the policy. Last month a separate panel of blood safety experts convened by Department of Health and Human Services voted 16-2 in favor of doing away with the ban on donations from gay and bisexual men. Those experts previously voted to uphold the ban in 2010, but said new research shows that the safety of the blood supply would not be compromised by revising the donation policy. They recommended moving to a one-year deferral period, which would bar male donors who have had sex with men in the previous 12 months.

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