Sen. Kerry pushes for lift on banning of gay blood donation

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) today sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) voicing support for a new pilot study reviewing the policy that bans gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

The HHS pilot study will assess alternative blood donor deferral criteria for men who have sex with men. Currently, any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 is banned for life from donating blood. The policy was enacted in the 1980s, when the risk of AIDS from transfusion was first recognized. However, since then, technological advances in blood testing, policy changes in other nations, and vocal opposition from the blood banking community have spurred a reexamination of the outdated policy.

“We’ve been working on this a long time and I applaud Secretary Sebelius for taking this important step toward ending the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood, and instead relying on the science of today not the myths of twenty years ago,” Kerry said. “I’m confident that the findings of these new studies will pave the way to get this policy off the books.”

He was also hopeful for an informed evaluation of the final roadblocks to healthy, responsible Americans donating blood.

“Patients across the country desperately need lifesaving blood transfusions, yet perfectly healthy would-be donors are turned away based solely on sexual orientation,” said Quigley. “Equality for the LGBT community is closer than ever but outdated and discriminatory policies like this must evolve to match advancements in science and technology.”

Kerry and Quigley have led bicameral efforts calling for a revised policy, first sending a letter to HHS in June 2010. That same month, the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability reviewed the lifetime ban and recommended the policy be revised because it was “suboptimal,” allowing high-risk individuals to donate while preventing donations from low-risk individuals, such as healthy gay and bisexual men.

The Advisory Committee’s full recommendations can be found at www.hhs.gov/ash/bloodsafety/advisorycommittee/recommendations/06112010_recommendations.pdf.