Thursday, May 05, 2005

Another One of Those "Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other" Issues

As I was flipping through this afternoon, I came upon this interesting tidbit that, aside from making an interesting argument, shows the degree of detachment that can exist between headline and story.

To whit, the headline screams, "FDA to ban sperm from men who had gay sex". However, if you read through the article, you notice several things (all emphasis added is mine):


Although there is disagreement over whether the FDA guideline regarding gay men will have the force of law, most doctors and clinics are expected to observe it.


Many doctors and fertility clinics already have been rejecting gay sperm donors, citing the pending FDA rules or existing regulations of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.


Gay men are a major donor source at Traiman's Rainbow Flag sperm bank, and he said that practice would continue despite the new rules.

"We're going to continue to follow judicious, careful testing procedures for our clients that even experts within the FDA say is safe," said Traiman, referring to the six-month quarantine.


The FDA rules do not prohibit gay men from serving as "directed" sperm donors. If a woman wishing to become pregnant knows a gay man and asks that he provide sperm for artificial insemination, a clinic could provide that service even if the man had engaged in sex with other men within five years.

In short, even when these rules go into effect, the practical implications of them are minimal -- most clinics already do not accept gay men as sperm donors. Furthermore, the word "ban" implies that the FDA is preventing gays from EVER donating sperm, which is clearly not the case. Again, though, the "symbolic" value is what's driving people crazy:

But it is the provision's symbolic aspect that particularly troubles gay-rights groups. Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, has called it "policy based on bigotry."

"The part I find most offensive -- and a little frightening -- is that it isn't based on good science," Cathcart said. "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."

Last I looked, Kev, glbts were still one of the populations with the highest rates of HIV infection -- and, more scarily, one of the highest rates of people who didn't KNOW they were infected. Pulling us out of the pool IS a scientific way to protect people, which is one of the reasons that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommended it in the first place.

Moreover, Kev, when you trot things like this out, you significantly undermine your case.

However, Traiman said some lesbian couples do not have a gay friend they know and trust well enough to be the biological father of their child, and would thus prefer an anonymous donor.

Fair enough. However, what do they say immediately after?

Dr. Deborah Cohan, an obstetrics and gynecology instructor at the University of California, San Francisco, said some lesbians prefer to receive sperm from a gay donor because they feel such a man would be more receptive to the concept of a family headed by a same-sex couple.

Call me crazy, but why do people care whether or not an anonymous donor is receptive to the concept of a family headed by a same-sex couple? California law (California Family Code Section 7613(b)) specifically states that a semen donor is, under law, NOT the father of a child conceived via artificial insemination if the child's natural mother is not his wife, so even if he objects, there's nothing he can do about it.

Then I went to Rainbow Flag's homepage and figured out why REAL fast:

We are the only sperm bank to tell the mother who the donor is when the child is three months old. We ask that the mother contact the donor by the child's first birthday.

OK -- so here we have Leland Traiman complaining about restrictions on anonymous donors when none of his donors are anonymous. Here we're quoting an obstetrics and gynecology instructor who claims that some lesbians would prefer a anonymous gay donor because the gay donor would be more "receptive" to their family structure, despite the fact that, if the donation were truly anonymous, the donor would never know what their family structure was in the first place.

As long as the FDA doesn't issue an outright ban on gay males donating sperm, I see no reason to get excited about what they're doing.


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