Gay blood drive hopes to end donor ban

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Organizers hope that a campaign kicked off Monday in the Bay Area will help end a ban that prevents gay and bisexual men from donating blood. The ban began in 1977 due to concerns about the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Lynn Walton donated blood Monday. Blood Centers of the Pacific says it needs about 500 pints a day to meet the needs of the 50 hospitals it supplies from Santa Cruz to the Oregon border. One thing that motivates Walton is her younger son, Doug, who requires plasma due to an immune disorder. However, her older son, John, can't donate because he's gay.

"It's a fact that he can't donate, and he would like to, and obviously it's a life-saving treatment for his brother," Walton said. "When his brother doesn't get his treatment, he gets sick."

So, the retired school teacher joined a large group of elected officials and fellow activists to urge the federal government to overturn its ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with other men.

Question #35 on the donor form is what they want changed, which dates back to the beginning of the aids outbreak. Some argue it's is an important precaution. Others say screening methods will protect blood recipients.

"We have seen vast advances in blood screening technology, blood donation policy changes in other countries and opposition from blood banks across the country that have called the current ban medically and scientifically unwarranted," Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., said.

Jeffrey Koenig is both a donor and a past blood recipient after an accident.

"I think as long as you're healthy and you have healthy blood, you should be able to give anything," he said. "It's our inalienable right to be able to do exactly what everyone else does.">

The Department of Health and Human Services says it will be studying updated research this year. A spokesperson told ABC7 News the agency hopes to have a recommendation on a potential policy change by the end of the year.

Advocates for the change in policy are going to be turning out in full force on Friday in 61 cities to bring more attention to this issue.
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