Window to Washington

An inside-the-beltway look at the legislative and regulatory process.

Lawmakers urge review of 1980s blood-donation policy

By Jessica Zigmond
1:45 pm, Jun. 11

Congressional Democrats—and one independent—are lending their support to a new HHS pilot study that will review the current policy prohibiting gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

Two years ago this month, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) sent a letter to HHS about this issue and have led an effort to overturn a policy—imposed in the 1980s in response to the AIDS epidemic—that bans any male who has had sex with another man since 1977 from giving blood. The lawmakers contend that technological advances in blood testing, as well as opposition from the blood bank community, are reasons to rethink this policy.

“Patients across the country desperately need life-saving blood transfusions, yet perfectly healthy would-be donors are turned away based solely on sexual orientation,” Quigley said in a news release. “Equality for the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community is closer than ever but outdated and discriminatory policies like this must evolve to match enhancements in science and technology.”

Along with Quigley and Kerry, Democratic Sens. Michael Bennett (Colo.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Patty Murray (Wash.), as well as independent Sen. Bernard Sanders, co-signed a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that underscores how HHS' Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability in June 2010 concluded that the current ban on gay and bisexual men is “suboptimal.”

The lawmakers also urged the agency to examine ways to distinguish high-risk MSM (men who have sex with men) from low-risk MSM as to avoid deferring low-risk, healthy and viable donors from giving blood. One way to do this, the letter suggested, would be for the donor questionnaire to collect information on whether or not the donor is in a monogamous relationship or if the donor engages in effective preventive measures.

Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter @MHJZigmond.


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