Members of Congress urge overturning of blood donation ban

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Eighty-two members of Congress have urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to overturn the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM).

In a letter sent to the HHS secretary last week, the contributing congressional members opposed the ban on the premise of its lack of scientific relevance, negative impact on patients, and continuation of gay stereotypes.

The request came shortly after the Gay Blood Drive on July 12—a peaceful activist demonstration to show how many gay and bisexual donors are unable to give blood. Participants were instructed to attempt to donate blood at specified donation centers all over the country. Contributors hoped once the FDA saw the heaps of paperwork of those turned away, they might recognize how harmful the ban is for patients in need of blood.

The United States implemented the ban on MSM blood donations over thirty years ago. At that time, the means of HIV transmission were widely misunderstood and often attributed to sexual contact between men. However, modern day science refutes these antiquated claims.

In addition to perpetuating stereotypes, the ban also puts patients in need of donations at risk. Over 43,000 blood donations are needed per day in the United States—roughly one person every two seconds. The Williams Institute estimates that without the ban, blood supply would increase by 219,000 pints. This boost could save 650,000 lives per year.

According to the American Red Cross, “all donated blood is tested for HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis and other infectious diseases before it can be released to hospitals.” So if the blood is being tested anyway, why the ban against MSM donators? In fact, while MSM donators face a lifetime ban even if they have only ever had safe sex with an HIV-negative partner, heterosexual males and females who have had sexual contact with an HIV positive person are permitted to donate blood after 12 months.

The effort to lift the ban is headed by openly gay U.S. senator Tammy Baldwin.

“Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic more than 30 years ago, the scientific community’s understanding of the virus has changed dramatically,” said Baldwin, along with eighty-four other supporting lawmakers in their letter to HHS. “The existing lifetime ban continues to perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes against gay and bisexual men, and fosters an atmosphere that promotes discrimination and discourages individuals from seeking HIV testing and treatment services.”

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