FDA ban on gay blood donors challenged in federal court

Donating blood is a simple way to give back to the community. It’s a nice gesture in which one person makes a minimum sacrifice for the greater good of society. But not all are welcome to take part in this act of kindness. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expressly bans blood donations from gay men. The FDA’s policy states:

“Men who have had sex with other men at any time since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States) are currently deferred as blood donors.”

The FDA claims this policy is in place because men who have had sex with men are at an increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B, and other infections that can be transmitted by blood transfusion. But the American Red Cross tests and screens every unit of donated blood for various infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis B. Therefore, the ban is not serving any legitimate purpose. It only singles out a class of citizens and reinforces outdated stereotypes about gay men.

Two weeks ago, 19-year-old Caleb Laieski sued the FDA  in a Virginia federal court, challenging its policy. Laieski claims the government is discriminating against a class of citizens in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, among other claims. He relies on precedence from the United States Supreme Court cases of Romer v. EvansLawrence v. TexasLoving v. Virginia, and United States v. Windsor.

Laieski’s complaint quotes United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy from Lawrence: “They knew times could blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 579 (2003). Kennedy’s words seem applicable to the FDA’s policy.

Barring gay men from donating blood may have seemed prudent in the 1980s and 90s. But years later, science has advanced, and this discriminatory policy is no longer necessary. It only serves to trigger old stereotypes that America is ready to move past in 2014. We will see if the Virginia court agrees.

UPDATE – 12/22/16: Lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men has been dropped, but FDA still bars donations from men who have had sex with men within the previous year (link here).



Low marks from free press group as AG Eric Holder leaves post

There have been mixed messages following U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s retirement announcement Thursday. Some tout his advancement of civil rights and voting rights as an accomplishment. Others see his tenure marred by controversy. Many Republicans took shots at Holder on his way out. But from one interest group in America–free press advocates–the verdict is fairly synchronized: Holder’s time as AG has been a disappointment.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation cites many examples of why Holder was the least press-friendly attorney general in years:

  • The Justice Department’s unprecedented prosecutions under the Espionage Act.
  • Secret subpoenaing of Associated Press reporters phone lines.
  • Continued pressure on James Risen of The New York Times to reveal his sources, damaging the reporter’s privilege.
  • A grand jury investigation against WikiLeaks and all involved.
  • Less than open policy regarding the Freedom of Information Act.

It will be interesting to see who will replace Holder as the nation’s top law enforcement official and how he or she stands on free press and speech issues. More importantly, it will be the actions and inactions of the next attorney general that will be important to defining how the press is treated in the coming years.