In this country, if you're a man who has had sex with another man even once since 1977, FDA policy bans you from donating blood. But Sen.Patty Murray (D-Wash.) would like to see that policy changed, and the Puget Sound Blood Center wholeheartedly agrees.
Current federal blood donation regulations go back to the early '80s and the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. However, much has changed since that time--from the highly sensitive blood tests now at the disposal of blood banks, to overall knowledge of the disease and how it spreads.
The Murray-backed letter was sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after the body's advisory committee deemed the ban on gay men giving blood "suboptimal." The department subsequently launched a pilot study to assess alternative criteria and a possible adjustment of the deferral period for men who have had sex with men.
"This marks another step in the push for equality and understanding for the LGBT community," Murray says." I am hopeful the findings will reverse the current discriminatory policy and allow for healthy Americans to once again help in the effort to save lives through blood donation."
The Puget Sound Blood Center supports the effort. The agency's Director of Communications, David Larsen, says that blood testing has improved dramatically, making the current regulations unnecessary. He adds the Puget Sound Blood Center is strongly in favor of shrinking the deferral period for gay men interested in giving blood, saying such a change--as has been made in several European countries--could be implemented without a risk to the nation's blood supply.
"What we knew about HIV in the early '80s was not too much," says Larsen. "Within the medical and scientific community there's a pretty broad agreement that the current [policy regarding gay men donating blood] is outmoded."
While Murray's letter references the threat of blood shortages at our nation's blood banks as further evidence that the ban on healthy gay men giving blood is ridiculous and counterproductive, Larsen says, at least as far as Puget Sound Blood Center is concerned, this is an issue of "equality," not supply. Whatever happens, Larsen says changes shouldn't be expected to come without plenty of debate and discussion.
"We understand the FDA is contemplative and deliberative," says Larsen, noting the government agency's ultimate goal is to ensure the safety of the nation's blood supply. "We'd be surprised if we see any change in the next two years."