September 13, 2011
Most of the United Kingdom soon will drop the policy enforcing a lifetime ban on blood donations by gay men, a move that "is likely the start of a trend globally that I'd rather we be leading than following," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). "This is a very close ally who sees the same information we do, and they've determined that gay donors pose no risk to the blood supply."
Following the recommendations of an advisory committee on blood safety, the health ministers of England, Scotland, and Wales have announced they will end the lifetime ban on donations by men who have sex with men, effective Nov. 7. Instead, MSM who have had oral or anal sex, with or without a condom, in the past 12 months will be barred from donating blood.
Current U.S. regulations enforce a lifetime ban on blood donations by any man who has had sex with another man since 1977. Kerry and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) have urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change this policy, which dates from 1983.
"We request that you initiate a review of the lifetime deferral requirement for [MSM] wishing to donate blood and that you re-examine the deferral criteria for all blood donors to ensure all high-risk behaviors are appropriately addressed," Kerry wrote in a 2010 letter, co-signed by 17 Senate colleagues, to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
Though its members unanimously declared current restrictions "suboptimal," an advisory committee to the Department of Health and Human Services voted last year against changing the MSM donation ban. Instead, it recommended more research into distinguishing between high- and low-risk donors, regardless of sexual orientation.
The committee identified four areas that need to be studied, including whether MSM would understand and comply with a deferral period, and how donor risk factors relate to the risk of blood-borne diseases.