June 13, 2012
In a letter sent June 11, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois urged US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to rescind the policy that prohibits men who have had sex with men (MSM) since 1977 from donating blood. They are supporting a proposed pilot study to assess the deferral policy, which has been under attack for many years. Senators from Colorado, New Jersey, Michigan, Washington, New Hampshire, New York, Hawaii, Vermont, and Alaska also signed the appeal to HHS.
The letter gives many reasons in support of a policy change, including advances in blood screening technology, policy changes in other nations, and opposition from the nation's blood banks which, the letter states, have called the current ban "medically and scientifically unwarranted."
In addition, heterosexuals with certain risk factors for infectious diseases are allowed to donate after a relatively short deferral period, which the writers find "inconsistent and indefensible."
One recommendation was to find a way to distinguish between high-risk and low-risk MSM. For example, the questionnaire might ask about whether the prospective donor is in a monogamous relationship or takes effective preventive measures.
The letter cites a June 2010 meeting of the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability, which reviewed the lifetime deferral policy. The committee concluded "that the current ban on gay and bisexual men is 'suboptimal' because it allows high-risk individuals to donate while prohibiting low-risk donors from contributing, and it should be changed as a result," the members of Congress wrote.
Finally, the letter urges vigilance to avoid any real or perceived discrimination. It stated that "a blanket deferral of MSM for any length of time both perpetuates the unwarranted discrimination against the bisexual and gay community and prevents healthy men from donating blood without a definitive finding of added benefit to the safety of the blood supply."