July 27, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
HHS to study lifting ban on gay blood donors

Sen. John Kerry (photo courtesy of kerry.senate.gov)

The Department of Health & Human Services has identified four areas of study to pursue before the regulatory ban on gay men donating blood can be lifted.

In a question-and-answer document requested by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) made public Tuesday, the department outlined steps that the Blood, Organ, and Tissue Safety Working Group have identified as necessary before gay and bisexual man are allowed to donate blood.

Proposed studies are aimed to address the following four issues:

* how the risk of blood transmissible diseases in the current donor population relate to risk factors in donors;

* the root cause of Quarantine Release Errors, or the accidental release of blood not cleared for use;

* if potential donors correctly understand the current questionnaire and if men who have sex with men would comply with modified deferral criteria; and

* if alternative screening strategy, such as pre- and post-qualifying donation infectious disease testing, for men who have sex with men would assure blood safety while enabling collection of data that could demonstrate safe blood collection.

Under current regulation, men who have had sex with other men since 1977 — even once — aren’t eligible to donate blood.

Last year, the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability for HHS voted to recommend that the ban not be changed and cited insufficient scientific data to support revision to the policy. However, the committee also recommended additional research to support a policy allowing low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

The Q&A prepared by HHS asserts that the department is evaluating these four concerns. To determine the relationship between the risk of transmitting blood diseases with risk factors in donors, HHS has this year instituted a study of baseline data. To determine potential errors in release of blood not cleared for use, HHS plans to hold a public workshop with blood establishments and stakeholders later this year.

“The Department’s Blood, Organ, Tissue Senior Executive Council is currently assessing how the above mentioned studies can be supported with limited resources to include long term monitoring through a national hemovigilance program (monitoring or surveillance of the blood supply and blood recipients),” the document states.

Asked whether HHS officials foresee an end to the gay donor ban, HHS doesn’t explicitly say whether the ban will come to end, but that the department is willing to revisit the issue after more information is gathered.

“The Department has worked to develop a plan that will yield scientific data that are currently needed to re-evaluate the policy based on the ACBSA,” HHS states. “When these studies are complete, the Department is committed to a full evidence-based evaluation of the policy. If the data indicate that a change is possible while protecting the blood supply, we will consider a change to the policy.”

In statements, Kerry and Quigley applauded HHS for taking additional steps to lift the ban on gay blood donors.

Kerry said he’s been “working on this a long time in a serious way” and is glad HHS “responded with concrete steps to finally remove this policy from the books.”

“HHS is doing their due-diligence and we plan to stay focused on the end game — a safe blood supply and an end to this discriminatory ban,” Kerry said.

Quigley said the announcement from HHS means “we’re moving in the direction of finally ending this antiquated and discriminatory policy.”

“Sen. Kerry and I will continue to push for a behavior-based screening process both in the name of fairness and a safer blood supply,” Quigley said.

LGBT advocates also praised HHS for taking steps toward allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

Nathan Schaefer, director of public policy at the New York-based Gay Men’s Health Clinic, said he’s “pleased to see” the U.S. government take “critical steps to review outdated blood donation policies.”

“As this research agenda is pursued, GMHC will continue educating the public about the negative consequences of current blood donation policies, and advocating for revised policies that would allow low-risk gay men to donate blood and maintain the highest standard of blood safety,” Schaefer said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

29 Comments
  • I’ve read that blood is tested at least twice. As a donor, I know they send you the results re any diseases you might have. Its all done so no one except the recipient knows who’s name it tied to any result.

    A note said the chance of missing a diseased blood sample is about 1 in 30 million. do it 3 times and you would have a chance of missing about 1 in a billion. Cant get much safer then that.

    And some blood types are desperately needed, esp O, which is compatible with all other types as well.

    it appears the ban is now just another example of fear and hate by some people. If only those people were as rare as the chance of contaminated blood being used.

    • So, to reiterate what you are stating… only gay people have diseases? To be frank, I think that concept is incredibly preposterous. As a blood donor as well as a previous blood bank employee, there is absolutely no reason to defer homosexual men from donating blood. It should be based on a persons risk for HIV/Hep, the more sex partners you have means you have a greater risk. On the other hand, a low-risk couple (male and female, male and male, female and female, etc) has little to no risk of contracting HIV/Hep. Homosexuality itself does not give you the virus. I really hope you can open your mind and enlighten yourself regarding this topic.

  • I am at a loss for words….. the “gay” community is practically forcing the FDA to end a ban on gays giving blood, even though there are multiple risks involved. It almost seems like the “gay”community is willing to murder people with tainted blood in order to force-feed their agenda down my throat. I am holding out hope that this minority of people will rethink their stance and put the lives of others ahead of their need to turn America into a virtual homosexual utopia.

    • are you ******* insane there is more straight people with stds then there is gay peeople all girls and guys are ***** and you guys can get hiv to from a man or a woman

  • You people are in denial. What dont you understand about this:

    Men who have sex with other men, including gay and bisexual men, have an HIV infection rate 60 times higher than that of the general population, the FDA says. They have an infection rate 800 times higher than first-time blood donors and 8,000 times higher than the rate of repeat blood donors. Tests cannot pick up a new HIV infection in the blood with 100 percent accuracy; because blood is often pooled, many people may be at risk from a single infected donor.

    You can have your rights to do whatever you want ot each other no problem. But when you IMPINGE ON MY RIGHTS TO A CLEAN BLOOD SUPPLY, thats way outa line.

    \Why would we run the risk? Why should we spend the money to test blood THREE TIMES just to satisfy the homosexual lobby?

    Do you want to infect other people?

  • The homosexual lobby was very aggressive in quoting policies from other countries militaries that allowed open homosexuality. if its good enough for them, it should be good enough for us. Right?

    Here is a list of other countries that prohibit blood donation by homosexuals.

    Gay blood donation policies around the world

    Deferral based on unsafe sexual activity
    - Spain and Italy

    Deferral of all gay and bisexual men from blood donation for one year after sexual activity
    - Argentina, Australia, Japan, Hungary

    Deferral for five years
    - South Africa, New Zealand (reduced from 10 years in mid 2008)

    Indefinite, lifetime or effective lifetime deferral
    - US, UK, Germany, Hong Kong, Canada (confirmed by a 2007 report

    Tit for tat, argument CLOSED.

  • Well, what’s disturbing is that IV drug users, prostitutes, and men who sleep with prostitutes can donate blood and that a gay man, whose been in a committed relationship for years and has been checked for HIV, cannot.
    But the real question EVERYONE should be asking is, is the Red Cross checking blood or going by people’s word? If they are checking blood, then what’s the problem? Also, if you are in an accident and an organ donor, do they check your organs for blood diseases and such before implanting them into you or your loved ones? From what I’ve heard, the answer to that question is pretty shocking. Also, are we still living in the time where people think HIV/AIDS is just a gay disease? It may be more active in the gay community, but they get themselves tested. Heterosexuals are way more likely to have it and unknowingly infect others before they even realize they have it themselves, all because of the perception that it only affects gay men.
    I work in the healthcare industry, and most of my patients are women with HIV/AIDS. And most of them got it from cheating husbands and drug use. Imagine how many of them may have donated blood.
    So “BitterClinger” and “Louis”, even with a ban in place, our blood supply is most assuredly already tainted–and not by a little.

  • well, “argument closed” was a little strong – sorry. still, I just cant get on board with this. why take the risk?

  • Morgan, the origins of the disease are without doubt the gay community. Thus the term GRID – gay related immune defficiency – which was accepted by the medical community until pressured by the gay lobby to make the change to AIDS.

    I give blood, and if I am not mistaken intravenous drug users are excluded.

    Look the whole point is that the testing is not perfect. If testing is not perfect, then whay are we having this discussion? Obviously this is not about the blood supply and increasing it – it is a political statement.

    The gay lobby won DADT. Gay marriage is making headway. However, neither of those issues were potential public safety problems. If the gay community were “responsible”, I dont believe they would be making such a big deal of this. After all, the very small size of the gay community is not going to make much of difference to the blood supply overall.

    And in fact, if the ban is lifted, I will stop giving blood. And pray that I never need a transfusion.

    • Louis, perhaps you should read the book “And the Band Played On”. That will enlighten you as to the origins of GRID -> HIV -> AIDS. The origins are in Africa -> Europe -> NYC -> Global infection. Do some dam*n research before blubbering about a subject you know nothing about.

    • Praying doesn’t do anything… so it wont matter. “After all, the very small size of the gay community is not going to make much of difference to the blood supply overall. ” Sorry where I live we make up 13% of the community and me and alot of my friends would give blood, we are tested for infections far more often than any hetero-sexual person. We are also currently more likely to use protection when doing sexual acts. These bans were put in during a time where aids and hiv were rampant in our community, that is no longer the case and the ban is outdated, period.

  • If you are interested in learning more about the Gay Blood Ban, please check out http://SavingLivesWithHelpfulGuys.com. This website is an educational resource center for policy directors, civil rights activists, students, members of the medical community, and the public at large who are dedicated to safely and sensibly reforming the Food and Drug Administration’s Gay Blood Ban.

  • Comparing the infection rate of men who have sex with men as compared to first time donors or repeat donors is the wrong question. The proper question is what is the infection rate of men who have sex with men solely in single partner relationships for the last ____ years as compared to first time donors or repeat donors (or alternatively, what is the infection rate or men who have protected sex with men for the last ___ years as compared to first time donors or repeat donors).

    To current questionnaire, however is grossly flawed. Under the current questionnaire a man who had sex with 100 different women in the last year (all protected sex) would be permitted to donate, unless he self determined that he engaged “in other high risk activity.” So using the current questionnaire, the correct comparison would be what is the infection rate of men who have sex with solely in single partner relationship, with protection, for the last _____ years, compared to men who had protected sex with 100 (or 1000) different women in the last year.

    The fact that gay men are not allowed to self identify that their behavior may be high risk, is what makes the current questionnaire discriminatory. The fact that the questionnaire doesn’t ask the proper question is what HHS needs to change.

  • Wow, a veritable nut farm in the comments. There’s nothing magic about gay blood. If you test it for HIV, you’ve tested it.

    Currently, a straight person who has had sex with 1000 partners, never used protection, and has never been tested for HIV, can donate blood, even though they are very likely to have HIV.

    But a gay person who has had sex with one partner one year ago, used protection, just took a test and is HIV negative, cannot give blood.

    That is not science. That is not being safe just in case. That is fear. And not even rational fear. The majority of new HIV cases are among African Americans, yet black people are not banned from donating blood. Their blood is simply tested, like everybody else’s.

    This policy went into effect before HIV testing. We now test blood for HIV.

    Test the blood, don’t ban it.

  • What gets my goat is I lived in Germany for 10 years while in the service during the mad cow scare over 20 years ago. Red Cross prohibits blood donations from people that lived there during that time frame. But, yet they want to accept blood from gays???

  • What gets my goat is I lived in Germany for 10 years while in the service during the mad cow scare over 20 years ago. Red Cross prohibits blood donations from people that lived there during that time frame.

  • "However, the committee also recommended additional research to support a policy allowing low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate blood."

    What would be considered low risk. I don't want any of their blood , that for sure.

  • So now I can get AIDS from some fag, just to prove a political point. Great.

  • This is one thing that should not be made political. If the minds in charge of making these decisions, i.e. the ACBSA, find it too risky to allow the donation, then that should be the end of the discussion. The tests are NOT perfect. I’ve seen patients who have been infected by tainted blood. And I’m not talking about blood they received 20 or 30 years ago, but recently. I’ll repeat: tests are NOT perfect. We have to do what is necessary to keep people safe. I work with cancer patients who receive 4-8 units of blood a week, and platelets on a daily basis. I shudder to think of them getting another disease because of tainted blood. They’re fighting a battle for their lives. No one’s political agenda should in any way decrease their chances of winning that battle. We’re not talking about anyone’s right to live they way they want to live; we’re talking about protecting other people from an increased risk of contracting a deadly disease. Donating blood is not a right or a privilege. It is a voluntary task requested of those who are fortunate enough to be perfectly healthy and who live a life that is deemed by the scientific minds in charge to be low-risk. I consider it to be a necessary evil. No one likes getting a blood transfusion. It’s risky even if the blood is from the cleanest, healthiest person on the planet. Please do not increase the worry of any patient for the sake of saying “I have the right”. The only rights that should come into play here are those of the patients receiving the blood.

  • This has nothing to do with discrimination. It has to do with the Health and Safety of American citizens. The reason for the ban is because there is a greater risk of HIV and other diseases being transmitted. It has nothing to do with hate or discrimination. This ban cannot be lifted based on groups shouting "hate and discrimination".

  • Ah, so I've been flagged? Yep, that's the homosexual agenda. Free speeh. As long as it promotes our agenda.

  • Would you rather get your blood from Glen Quagmire, or Neil Patrick Harris?

  • I DON'T want gay guy blood! Political correctness…..here is a great example of it actually KILLING people! GREAT!

  • Not against gays at all, to each their own. But I am against lifting the ban for donating blood, it will cost the taxpayers more money because they will have to do extra testing before putting it in blood bank. To risky to human lives (unless it is only for them and not everybody).

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