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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times (MCT)

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel has begun to consider whether to overturn a long-standing ban against accepting blood donations from gay men.

On Thursday, the FDA’s Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability heard testimony from advocates who say that the lifetime ban is discriminatory and that technological advances have made it obsolete.

“The ban on gay and bisexual men … was enacted in 1985 and focuses on sexual orientation more than the risk and science itself,” said Caleb Laieski, a 19-year-old gay activist who has sued the FDA to overturn the ban.

“A recent study by the American Red Cross estimates that lifting the blood donation ban could be used to help save the lives of more than 1.8 million people,” Laieski told the group.

The ban in the United States applies to any prospective male blood donor who has had sex with another man since 1977, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., the FDA explains on its website.

The FDA said the ban was necessary because gay and bisexual men are at an increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and other infections that can be transmitted via blood transfusion.

“HIV tests currently in use are highly accurate, but still cannot detect HIV 100 percent of the time,” the FDA states on its site. “It is estimated that the HIV risk from a unit of blood has been reduced to about 1 per 2 million in the USA, almost exclusively from so-called ‘window’ period donations.”

The window period exists very early after infection, when viral levels are too low to be detected by current methods. “For this reason, a person could test negative, even when they are actually HIV positive and infectious,” the FDA says.

Other industrialized countries, including Australia, Britain, France, Italy and Japan, have overturned similar bans on blood donation. Instead of barring gay and bisexual men for life, some of the countries allow them to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man in the last 12 months.

Laieski is not alone in opposing the U.S. ban. Last year, the American Medical Association voted to oppose the FDA policy, calling it “discriminatory and not based on sound science.”

In addition, three groups that supply nearly all of the nation’s blood — the American Red Cross, AABB and America’s Blood Centers — have long advocated ending the prohibition.

AFP Photo/Romeo Gacad

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.