News & Politics

Anthony Weiner, Senators Call for End to Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood


Yesterday, Anthony Weiner joined 18 Senators (including locals Kirsten Gillibrand and Frank Lautenberg) who sent an open letter to the FDA this week demanding that the “medically and scientifically unwarranted” lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men be done away with.

Weiner said that overturning the ban, which was put in place in 1983, would save lives in the face of a dangerously low local blood supply. According to the New York Blood Center, 1,500 expected donations of blood and platelets were lost when the recent snowstorms forced the cancellation of school and workplace blood drives.

The Senators who wrote to the FDA pointed out that the lifetime ban on donations from men who have had a single same-sex partner since 1977 is not supported by the currently available science

The American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, and AABB reported before an FDA-sponsored workshop on March 9, 2006 that the ban on men who have had sex with other men (MSM), even once, since 1977 from ever donating blood “is medically and scientifically unwarranted.” Then in 2008, the Council on Science and Public Health at the American Medical Association also advocated modifying the lifetime deferral requirement for MSM…

Collecting facilities now screen all donors for history of certain high-risk behaviors, and FDA regulations determine that all donated blood be analyzed by two highly accurate screening tests; one for antibodies to HIV-1/2 and HIV-1 Group O variants, and the other for the actual sequences of the virus using molecular technologies. As a result, the blood banking community believes that the lifetime deferral is no longer necessary to protect the integrity of the blood banks.

It is our understanding that there is a window period of up to three weeks following a person’s initial exposure to HIV during which infection may be missed by the blood tests. It is this window period that rightfully serves as the scientific basis for a deferral period for prospective donors deemed to be of high-risk for HIV. Similar approaches and deferral periods are used to prevent window-period transmission of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C by blood transfusion.

or even logic

Reflecting the dangers associated with the window period, prospective donors who have engaged in heterosexual sexual activity with a person known to have HIV are deferred for one year. At the same time, male donors who engaged in protected homosexual sexual activity with a monogamous partner 26 years ago are deferred for life. The FDA-imposed lifetime ban for men who have sex with men does not fall in line with the one-year deferral required for high-risk heterosexual behavior, nor does it correspond in any way to the window period. The ban also does not distinguish between safe and unprotected sexual activity. As a result, healthy blood donors are turned away every day due to an antiquated policy and our blood supply is not necessarily any safer for it.

In an article for Bay Windows, a New England GLBT newspaper, John Kerry spins out exactly how much not logical we’re talking about here

Nothing better highlights the unjustified nature of the discrimination against men who have had sex with other men than the FDA’s own screening guidelines for other high risk sexual behaviors known for transmitting HIV. FDA guidelines dictate that if you pay a heterosexual prostitute for sex you are deferred from donating blood, but for just one year following the incident. If you have had heterosexual sex with someone you know is infected with HIV, you are deferred from donating blood for just one year. But a man who has had protected sex with a monogamous male partner, even one time 33 years ago, is barred for life from donating blood.

The letter was also signed by Democrats Dick Durbin, Daniel Akaka, Sheldon Whitehouse, Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey, Russ Feingold, Mark Udall, Al Franken, Maria Cantwell, Carl Levin, Tom Harkin, Mark Begich, Rolland Burris, and Michael Bennet, as well as Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.

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