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Sen. Warren Wants to Know Why Gay Men Can't Donate Blood

A Roslindale resident's letter wanted to know about the federal policy on donating blood after he was rejected during the Boston Marathon bombings aftermath.


After receiving a letter from a Roslindale resident who was not allowed to give blood after the Boston Marathon bombings because of his sexual orientation, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has asked for a review of the federal policy.

Warren sent a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently voicing concern "over the agency's sluggish pace at reevaluating blood donation policies for men who have sex with men (MSM)." The letter requested information about HHS's ongoing efforts to gather data and review this policy.

Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Representatives Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) also led the letter and 81 of their congressional colleagues, including Senator Edward Markey and Representatives Jim McGovern, John Tierney and Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts signed with their support. The full text of the letter is available here.

Howard Lieberman, the Roslindale resident who sent the letter to Warren, wanted to donate blood to help with the effort following the Boston Marathon bombings and wrote to the Senator.

"Therefore I ask you to add your voice to this issue, because it is right, because there is a clear need, and because when lives are on the line, we all want to help." Under current regulations, MSM are banned from donating blood for life. This policy was put in place during the rise of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, and is no longer scientifically justified in light of modern blood screening technology," wrote Harold Lieberman.

"For me, this has been a basic issue of fairness and of science - blood donation policies should be grounded in science, not ugly and inaccurate stereotypes," said Warren. "When a Massachusetts man told me he wanted to donate blood during the bombings but couldn't because of his sexual orientation, I dug deeper into this discriminatory ban and I didn't like what I found. Current policies are contrary to science. They promote discrimination and don't make the system any safer. It's long past time for HHS to make blood donation policies fairer and more effective."

In 2006, the American Association of Blood Banks, the Red Cross, and American's Blood Centers agreed that the current ban is medically and scientifically unwarranted, according to a Warren press release. These organizations recommended that donation criteria for MSM be changed to one based upon risk for sexually transmitted or transfusion-transmitted infections. In 2010, the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood & Tissue Safety & Availability (a governmental organization) described the lifetime ban of MSM donors "suboptimal" due it allows high-risk individuals to donate while prohibiting low-risk donors from giving blood. 

HHS is currently conducting three studies to help to policy changes currently underway, with completion dates ranging from August 2013 to October 2014. 
In March 2012, HHS released a Request for Information (RFI) in order for the public to comment on the design of a fourth study - a pilot program for MSM blood donation. In response, 64 members of Congress sent a letter to Sebelius, led by Rep. Quigley and former Sen. John Kerry, supporting the RFI while stressing the importance of the pilot study.

HHS leadership has yet to release information about the proposed study, or how study information will be used, or a timeline for changing this discriminatory policy. 

In the letter, Warren and her colleagues request criteria used to assess public comments to the RFI; a copy of a report to HHS leadership on the response to comments and pilot study design; a detailed plan and a timeline for how results from the ongoing studies will be used to affect changes to the blood donation criteria; and whether HHS plans to use data from other countries currently allowing MSM to donate, and if not, why not.
Gary Scott August 12, 2013 at 06:29 PM
This has been a blood donation policy since HIV and AIDS became prevalent 30 years ago. It is still in force by my Blood Bank! If you want people to start designating what their blood may be used for, keep pushing against everything modern day science has substantiated. If you have homosexual contact with a homosexual or bi-sexual male, or exposed to HIV, AIDS, you cannot legally donate blood. The Government Center for Disease Control doesn't play favorites regarding this policy.... http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/basics/ataglance.html You cannot donate if: You are in a high risk group for exposure to the AIDS virus. You have had viral hepatitis after age 10. You have ever had syphilis. You have ever taken Tegison. You have ever injected illegal drugs. There are no "equal rights" regarding this modern scientific fact... I can donate blood to MSM's but they can't return the favor because of their personal lifestyle decisions. Remember Ryan White died because of tainted AIDS blood given for his Leukemia treatments...
MK Hernández August 13, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Can you please sign and forward my petition to allow gay men the right to donate blood at http://www.change.org/petitions/u-s-food-and-drug-administration-allow-gay-men-to-donate-blood To get more information please like the page when you get a chance: http://www.facebook.com/weallrequal
Hari Bharat August 22, 2013 at 03:17 AM
ya its unfair with gay men ...HIV positive blood is legally disable in blood donation is accaptable bt what about gay mens.... for more detail of blood donation u can visit http://www.haribharathequipments.in/products.html

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