[Clarification: This story was originally published by the Associated Press in 2005.]
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is preparing to implement new rules that will ban men who have had sex with other men from acting as anonymous sperm donors. The agency claims to be adopting the measures as a means of protecting recipients from HIV transmission, but according to the Associated Press, LGBT rights groups have been quick to point out that not only is the policy discriminatory on its face, it isn’t based in scientific reality.
“The part I find most offensive — and a little frightening — is that it isn’t based on good science,” Kevin Cathcart of Lambda Legal told the AP. “There’s a steadily increasing trend of heterosexual transmission of HIV, and yet the FDA still has this notion that you protect people by putting gay men out of the pool.”
FDA officials insist that gay men are at higher-than-average risk for contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but critics of the new policy say that the agency would be better served by screening procedures that identify high-risk behaviors in all donors, regardless of sexual orientation. Activists have also asked that the FDA reverse its ruling that bars gay men from donating blood, particularly now that more effective HIV tests are in common use.
According to the global HIV/AIDS charity AVERT, only half of the HIV-positive men and male adolescents living in the U.S. contracted the virus through male-to-male sexual contact. In spite of what politicians like Tennessee Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield (R) might say, AIDS is readily transmissible through heterosexual sex.
Leland Traiman, director of a California clinic that specializes in sperm donations from gay men, said, “Under these rules, a heterosexual man who had unprotected sex with HIV-positive prostitutes would be OK as a donor one year later, but a gay man in a monogamous, safe-sex relationship is not OK unless he’s been celibate for five years.”
Traiman’s clinic tests donors for all STDs at the time of donation, then freeze the semen for six months, at which point the donor is tested again. If no illnesses are present, the donated sperm are cleared for use.
Cathcart calls the new rules, which are part of changing guidelines for all tissue and cell donation, “A policy based on bigotry.”
Dr. Deborah Cohan, head of gynecology and obstetrics at the University of California, San Francisco said that the ban will have consequences among LGBT families looking to have children. Many lesbian couples seeking donor sperm favor semen from gay donors on the grounds that the men are more likely to be accepting and supportive of households headed by a same sex couple.
Cohen said she is baffled by the bad. “This rule will make things legally more difficult for them. I can’t think of a scientifically valid reason — it has to be an issue of discrimination.”