FDA to gay men: No thanks

George W. Bush's Food and Drug Administration says men who have engaged in gay sex in the last five years shouldn't be anonymous sperm donors.

Published May 6, 2005 1:11PM (EDT)

So here's the new rule, courtesy of George W. Bush's Food and Drug Administration: If you're a straight man and it has been a whole year since you've engaged in unprotected sex with, say, an HIV-positive prostitute, you're free to make a contribution at your local sperm bank. But if you're a gay man who has had sex with another man -- protected or not, clean or not -- during the last five years, your sperm is not welcome.

The FDA's new "Good Tissue Practices" regulations will take effect on May 25, over the objection of gay rights activists and gay-friendly sperm banks who say that they're based on anti-gay discrimination rather than on logic or science. Imagine that. Leland Traiman, the director of a California clinic that seeks gay sperm donors, tells the Associated Press that the safety of sperm can be assured by testing a sperm donor at the time of the initial donation, then freezing the sperm for a six-month quarantine and testing the donor again to be sure there is no new sign of HIV or other infectious diseases. In choosing a blanket rule against gay donors instead, the FDA has adopted a "policy based on bigotry," says Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal. "The part I find most offensive -- and a little frightening -- is that it isn't based on good science," Cathcart 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."

The FDA says that it's aware that its new rule may eliminate "some safe donors," and it stresses that the rule is only a recommendation for sperm banks to follow and that it applies only to anonymous donations; a woman wishing to use the sperm of a particular man can still choose to do so.

But gay men who want to donate sperm anonymously -- and women who like the idea of being impregnated with the sperm of a gay man but don't have one handy -- will be locked out by the "recommendation." Why not institute a more discriminating rule, one that excludes, as Lambda Legal has recommended, potential donors based on risky conduct? Why issue a blanket prohibition against men who have had gay sex"I can't think of a scientifically valid reason," says one obstetrics and gynecology instructor from the University of California, San Francisco. "It has to be an issue of discrimination."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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