Employee from Country’s Second Largest Blood Bank Joins Call by Sen. John Jerry, Rep. Mike Quigley to End Blood Donation Discrimination- World Blood Donation Day Highlights Need to End Biased Policies Dangerously Limiting American Blood Supply
Post by Melanie Nathan, June 13, 2012.
WASHINGTON, DC – 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.
In addition a new petition from SignOn.org calls on Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Congress, and the President to lift the decades-long discriminatory ban forbidding gay men from donating blood, despite blood supply shortages and new tests that make the ban outdated and biased, as leading members of congress, including Sen. John Kerry, reinstate the call to HHS to revise blood supply regulations that prevent thousands of healthy, willing donors from giving blood.
June 14th is World Blood Donation Day. However, only 5% of Americans are eligible and active blood donors. Despite shortages, a 27-year old policy by the FDA and HHS bars men who have slept with men any time since 1977 from donating blood. The policy, which was instituted at the height of the AIDS epidemic when no test existed to adequately identify the virus, disregards viable donations from thousands of healthy and willing donors, and ignores the rising rates of HIV amongst populations that are approved for blood donation, including heterosexuals and the elderly.
Ryan C. Allen, an employee at United Blood Services, the nation’s second largest blood bank, started the petition on SignOn.org. Allen’s lifelong dedication to blood donation started as a child, when his grandmother required multiple transfusions following a double mastectomy. Ryan is unable to give blood himself now because he is an out gay man.
“Had it not been for those in her community that cared enough to donate their blood, I would not have grown up having a grandmother,” said Allen. “As I grew and continued to work on blood donation related issues, I began to realize how severe the discrimination towards the LGBT community was in regards to donating blood. The ban on blood donation by gay males made some sense thirty years ago, when very little was known about the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But now, with 14 different tests applied to blood donations, the continued restrictions are biased and dangerous, withholding life-saving treatment from hundreds of Americans who would benefit from transfusions.”
Earlier this week, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) sent a joint letter to Secretary Sebelius, applauding her request for more information on creating a pilot program to reassess blood safety criteria and beginning the process to lift the ban on gay blood donation. In a statement, Sen. Kerry thanked 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.”
In the letter, Sen. Kerry, Rep. Quigley, and the other politicians who have since signed on, state, “Healthy gay and bisexual men continue to be banned for life, while the FDA allows a man who has had sex with an HIV-positive woman to give blood after waiting only one year. This double standard is inconsistent and indefensible. Our current policies turn away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages.”
** View Petition Here: http://signon.org/sign/allow-the-lgbt-community **
Read the full letter from Sen. Kerry and Rep. Quigley :
Kerry Supports New HHS Study, Pushes to Update Policy Banning Gay Blood Donation
Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I – Vt.) Mark Begich (D-Alaska), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) co-signed the letter.
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. I’m confident that the findings of these new studies will pave the way to get this policy off the books,” said Sen. Kerry. “We’ll at last have an informed evaluation of the final roadblocks to ending a ban against healthy, responsible Americans donating blood.”
“Patients across the country desperately need life-saving blood transfusions, yet perfectly healthy would-be donors are turned away based solely on sexual orientation,” said Rep. 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.”
Sen. Kerry and Rep. 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 here.
Senator Kerry has been a longtime advocate for updating this discriminatory policy. In 2010, he wrote two separate letters to the FDA urging them to abolish the policy, published an op-ed on the ban in Bay Windows, New England’s largest GLBT newspaper, and submitted testimony to the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability urging the lifetime ban’s repeal.