A Bay Area university has suspended all campus blood drives because of a long-standing government policy that bars gay men from donating blood, putting renewed attention on an issue that has been a sore spot at many liberal colleges.
San Jose State University President Don Kassing said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's position conflicts with the school's policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
A campus employee brought the matter to Kassing's attention last year, and school officials gathered information and spoke with the FDA before Kassing decided to discontinue on-campus blood drives until he is satisfied the agency reevaluates its stand, he said.
"I recognize the importance of giving blood and we know that universities are a significant source of blood," Kassing wrote in an e-mail sent Tuesday to faculty, staff, students and alumni. "Our hope is that the FDA will revisit its deferral policy in a timely manner and we may soon be able to hold blood drives on this campus again."
The American Red Cross and other national organizations that run
blood drives have been pushing the FDA to revise its recommendation
preventing them from accepting blood from men who have had sex with
other men at any time since 1977.
The policy has been in place since 1983, when AIDS first emerged in the United States, and is meant to prevent the spread of HIV through transfusions. After studying the issue at the request of the Red Cross and other blood groups, the FDA in May decided to keep the policy in place.
People with past histories of intravenous drug use, prostitution or hepatitis are subject to the same lifetime ban on giving, according to the FDA. People who have gotten tattoos, done military service in Iraq or Afghanistan or been treated for cancer also are generally disqualified for periods ranging from one to five years.
Individuals are ruled out when they fill out a questionnaire that asks about medical histories and past behaviors.
"The persons who are deferred, this is not based at all upon judgment of their behaviors themselves. They are simply based on the mathematical model of risk," said FDA spokeswoman Peper Long.
The Stanford Blood Center, a local blood bank based at the university's medical school, was not pleased with Kassing's decision. The center released a statement calling it "a terribly misguided tactic that could have a devastating impact on the blood supply and, therefore, patients in our community."
Student groups at colleges throughout the nation have occasionally boycotted or canceled campus blood drives because of the FDA's policy on gay donors, but San Jose State associate vice president Larry Karr said the school does not know of any other university where the top administrator has instituted such a sweeping edict.
Kassing does not intend to encourage other college presidents to follow his lead, but has urged the FDA to revisit the issue and collect more scientific data, Karr said.
"When it comes right down to it, we aren't arguing the science behind the FDA position. We aren't qualified to do that," Karr said. "We just have a fundamental problem with what actually happens in these blood drives. ...If it affects any individual on our campus, then we will stand up and protect our policy."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)