The PJ Tatler

Warren Leads Effort to Lift Ban on Gay, Bisexual Men Donating Blood

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other lawmakers are lobbying the Department of Health and Human Services to scrap “outdated” polices on blood donation by gay and bisexual men.

The policy on MSM — men who have sex with men — being banned from donating blood is “because MSM are, as a group, at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion,” the FDA says in a Q&A.

“FDA’s primary responsibility with regard to blood and blood products is to assure the safety of patients who receive these life-saving products,” the website explains. “…FDA’s deferral policy is based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation.”

Warren, along with Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell today asking that the blanket prohibition be replaced with an individual risk analysis.

Seventy-five other members of Congress signed the letter.

They noted that on Nov. 13 the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability recommended changing the lifetime ban to a one-year restriction after an MSM encounter, contingent on the “implementation of a blood safety surveillance system.”

“However, such a policy still prevents many low-risk individuals from donating blood,” they wrote. “If we are serious about protecting and enhancing our nation’s blood supply, we must embrace science and reject outdated stereotypes.”

The senators said the one-year-ban proposal “like a lifetime ban is a categorial exclusion based solely on the sex of an individual’s sexual partner — not his actual risk of carrying a transfusion-transmittable infection.”

“The ACBTSA’s proposed policy change would, in practice, leave that lifetime ban in place for the vast majority of MSM, even those who are healthy and low-risk. Both policies are discriminatory, and both approaches are unacceptable. Low-risk individuals who wish to donate blood and help to save lives should not be categorically excluded because of outdated stereotypes.”

They also charged that the¬†recommendation to hinge any change in the MSM blood donation policy to the establishment of a blood safety surveillance system “is an arbitrary condition that will inevitably result in further unnecessary delays.”

“To be clear, a comprehensive surveillance system for our blood supply is a critically important initiative to protect the blood supply from Hepatitis, HIV, and emerging diseases, and is long overdue….Years of HHS inaction on this issue is problematic, but so is the fact that ACBTSA has now suddenly chosen to make such a system a precondition of revising the donation policies specific to MSM.”