Weiner: Lift Gay Ban on Blood Donation
Representative Anthony Weiner, Vice Chair of the House of Representatives LGBT Caucus, joined by Dr. Sean Cahill, Managing Director of Public Policy, Research and Community Health and Janet Weinberg, Chief Operating Officer of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to end the discriminatory policy that bans men who have sex with men from donating blood, regardless of their HIV status.
“The FDA’s policy is unfair, harmful to our blood supply and doesn’t make our blood supply any safer. It’s hard to believe that such discrimination still exists in the year 2010,” Weiner said. “With such a high demand for blood donations and with rigorous testing standards in place, this practice by the FDA harms more people than it hurts. We’re denying people the blood they need to survive just because of decadesold stereotypes and misinformation.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said, “There is no scientific evidence to support this discriminatory policy that is turning away healthy donors at a time when city emergency rooms and hospitals are in critical need of blood supplies. The time has come to end this outdated and unnecessary ban to help save more lives.”
The ban was originally implemented in 1983 at a time when discrimination and bigotry helped dictate a policy that targeted the gay community due ignorance of how HIV was transmitted. Since then, blood testing has advanced to a point where the FDA policy serves no practical safety purpose. Many segments of the population exhibit behaviors that put them at risk for HIV infection, and are yet allowed to donate without question.
FDA rules mandate that potential donors fill out a questionnaire or undergo a brief interview regarding their health status prior to giving blood. Heterosexual donors who engage in highrisk sexual behavior are eligible to give blood after one year, while men who have had sex with men are permanently banned from donating, regardless of if they are HIV-negative or if they last had intercourse decades ago. continued from page 39
New York has a particularly high demand for blood donations – although 5% of eligible adults donate blood nationwide, only about 2% of eligible adults in the New York/New Jersey area donate blood. Given that donors can safely give blood every eight weeks and platelets up to 24 times a year, New York’s estimated 130,000 gay and bisexual men could donate up to 14,000 more pints of blood and an additional 60,000 platelet donations every year. Because individual liters can be separated into blood, plasma and platelets, they can be used to help three different people. That means that lifting the ban could save an additional 46,000 lives in New York City.
According to the New York Blood Center, 4.5 million Americans receive blood transfusions every year, and 38,000 pints are transfused every day. On average, one out of every three Americans will require a blood transfusion, and more than 1,500 blood donations are needed each day in New York City alone to meet demand.
“Many policies adopted toward HIV a quarter century ago were based on fear, prejudice, homophobia and ideology—not science and compassion. Gay Men’s Health Crisis believes that it is time to reexamine the lifetime ban on all gay and bisexual male blood donors, explore alternatives to this policy that would expand the pool of blood donors, and at the same time guarantee the safety of our nation’s blood supply. Russia, South Africa, Spain and other countries have found ways to do this. The U.S. should at least take a fresh look at this issue. Public policy should be based on science, knowledge and the latest technological advances— not prejudice, ignorance and outdated beliefs,” Dr. Cahill noted.
Weiner, who sits on the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health, has called for open hearings into this issue and plans to introduce an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2011 Health and Human Services appropriations bill directing the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, which regulates the blood supply, to allow men who have sex with men back into the blood donation pool.