The Food & Drug Administration
(FDA) announced Friday it would reexamine its policy that bans gay
men from donating blood, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The FDA currently imposes a lifetime
ban on men who have had a sexual relationship with another man since
1977 from donating blood. But the agency only excludes people who
have engaged in heterosexual sexual activity with a person know to
have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, for one year.
Gay rights groups have said the policy
creates an unfair double standard and that it stigmatizes gay men.
The announcement comes after
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, along with 17 Democratic lawmakers,
wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg asking the agency to
reverse the policy.
The lawmakers argue that the ban
specifically singles out gay men and is “scientifically unsound,”
in their March 4 letter.
“Prospective donors who have engaged
in heterosexual sexual activity with a person known to have HIV are
deferred for one year. At the same time, male donors who engaged in
protected homosexual sexual activity with a monogamous partner 26
years ago are deferred for life.”
“The ban also does not distinguish
between safe and unprotected sexual activity. As a result, healthy
blood donors are turned away every day due to an antiquated policy
and our blood supply is not necessarily any safer for it,” the
The FDA initially resisted Kerry's
request, saying that the ban “is based on current science and
data,” in a statement released to the press on the same day.
Kerry, however, wrote a second letter
asking Hamburg to share the agency's scientific data.
“We did not write to the FDA to
defend the people's desire to donate blood,” Kerry said. “Please
share with us the current science and data referenced in your
statement used to continue to justify this policy.”
Allowing gay men to donate blood is
opposed by hemophilia patient groups. In the late 1970s and early
1980s about 10,000 hemophiliacs were infected with HIV before the
agency implemented the policy.
Technological improvements in screening
the nation's blood make the policy unnecessary, the lawmakers argue.
“We live in a very different country
than we did in 1983,” the letter says. “Today, the high-risk
behaviors associated with HIV contraction are more fully understood
and dramatic technological improvements have been made in HIV
detection. … As a result [of screening], the blood banking
community believes that the lifetime deferral is no longer necessary
to protect the integrity of the blood banks.”
The policy will be reexamined by the
Department of Health and Human Services' blood safety committee in
June, according to the statement.