HHS to Retain Gay Blood Ban

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com June 11 2010 4:45 PM ET

A Department of Health and Human Services committee has voted to retain a policy barring gay men from donating blood.

The Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability's 9-6 ruling on Friday, first reported by Chris Geidner of Metro Weekly, comes after two days of deliberations on whether to retain the ban, which has come under increasing fire by gay rights activists and allied congressional leaders.

On Wednesday a group of legislators, led by Massachusetts senator John Kerry and Illinois representative Mike Quigley, issued a joint statement in support for amending the ban.

"There is no prescribed consideration of safer sex practices," the lawmakers argued. "Individuals who routinely practice unsafe heterosexual sex face no deferral period at all, while monogamous and married homosexual partners who practice safe sex are banned for life," Kerry and his colleagues wrote to officials.

Addressing the committee on Thursday, Kerry said he was joined by the nation's largest blood-banking organizations in opposition to the current policy. The American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks, and America’s Blood Centers have all blasted the policy as “scientifically and medically unwarranted.”

"This is a discussion with real social significance for gay men," Kerry said before the committee. "They are clearly the target of this policy, which was initiated in the early '80s, when little was known about HIV/AIDS, except that gay men seemed to be contracting it almost exclusively. Today, this lingering policy carries with it a social stigma for this population that is still engaged in battles for civil rights on a whole array of fronts."



In a unanimous vote the panel also called the policy
"suboptimal," however, and recommended that distinctions be made
between low- and high-risk potential gay donors in a report to the
assistant secretary of HHS. 

In 1983 the Food and Drug Administration, a subagency of HHS that regulates the nation’s blood supply collection, barred any man who’d had sexual contact with another man since 1977 from donating blood. FDA policy allows heterosexual men and women who have had sexual contact with an HIV-positive partner to give blood after a one-year deferral period.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Rea Carey called the committee's decision "outrageous, irresponsible, and archaic." 

"We expect more out of this advisory committee and this administration than to uphold an unnecessarily discriminatory policy from another era," Carey said in a statement. "The most critical issue is to ensure that the blood supply is safe and abundant, and this means maximizing the potential donor pool and making sure all donors are screened appropriately and assessed based on actual behavioral risk independent of their sexual orientation." 

A spokeswoman with the American Red Cross said the organization was "disappointed" by the ruling.

"While the Red Cross is obligated by law to follow the guidelines set forth by the FDA, we also strongly support the use of rational, scientifically based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among donors who engage in similar risk activities," Red Cross director of biomedical communications Stephanie Millian said in a statement to The Advocate