The Department of Health and Human Services has released a document laying out the “four final areas for additional study” before the government can reverse the 1983 ban prohibiting men who have had sex with men since 1977 from donating blood. Responding to a request from Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), HHS identified the following areas of research:
– 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 (QRE), 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 (MSM) would comply with modified deferral criteria; AND
– If alternative screening strategy (e.g. pre- and/or post-qualifying donation infectious disease testing) for MSM (and potentially other high-risk donors) would assure blood safety while enabling collection of data that could demonstrate safe blood collection from a subset of MSM or other currently deferred donors.
The Food and Drug Administration reviewed the ban — in place since 1983 and a relic of the HIV/AIDS epidemic — last year and voted to preserve it, despite overwhelming support from the medical community for eliminating the policy. American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, American Association of Blood Banks, American Medical Association, and a coalition of other organizations argue that advancements in HIV/AIDS detection — now possible nine to 11 days after contact — have significantly lowered the risk of passing along infected blood and made a lifetime ban unnecessary. They also point to the nation’s low blood supply as a reason to expand donor eligibility.
The policy itself is discriminatory. As Slate’s William Saletan put it, “Maybe you fooled around with a guy 30 years ago and have spent the rest of your life as a celibate priest. Maybe you’ve been in a faithful same-sex marriage for 40 years. Maybe you’ve passed an HIV test. It doesn’t matter. You can’t give blood, because you’re in the wrong ‘group.’ On the other hand, if you’re in the right group—heterosexuals—you can give blood despite dangerous behavior. If you had sex with a prostitute, an IV drug user, and an HIV-positive opposite-sex partner 13 months ago, you’re good to go.”
In upholding the ban last year, the FDA promised to reverse itself “if given data that show doing so wouldn’t pose a ‘significant and preventable‘ risk to blood recipients.”