MSM blood donor ban

Follow-up on MSM donor ban vote

by: Adam Bink

Mon Jun 14, 2010 at 12:30

Some follow-up details from Friday's HHS Committee vote:

  • The Committee voted 9-6 against lifting the ban. In a follow-up vote, the Committee also voted unanimously- 14-0- to declare the policy "sub-optimal" because "some potentially high-risk donations while preventing some potentially low-risk donations".

    Update: Some questions have dropped in my inbox on why the Committee would voted against lifting the ban in the face of such clear scientific evidence for a revised ban. My own opinion is that many members would not support a repeal without something to put in its place, and there was no consensus on that- for example, a 1-year deferral- or a deferral based on risk. In listening to some of the hearing (h/t Good As You for the clips), the comments from Dr. Pomper (a Committee member) as I transcribed below are the best illustration of that opinion.

    We do really need to reassess the question. The problem with the question that we were asked was at the present time, which I take to mean today, and the problem with making that decision today is that we really don't have an acceptable alternative in that setting. So I think we really need to do some research to into establishing what would be a safe alternative. Then, rather than changing, or removing, I would say, as a concept of change, now we have an ability to remove something but have the ability to put something in its place that would be an improvement... it's difficult for me to simply recommend removal of the status quo without being able to recommend a clear plan of how to make that better. It's not optimal today, it's not perfect today, and I wish it was, but to be safe, it's important to have that plan, at least some research, into what would be that best plan. And I think a questionnaire into the demographics that gets to the heart of the risk factors is a good place to begin.

  • The Committee further recommended that HHS study the issue to see if the questionnaire people are required to fill out be adjusted to identify MSM who are not high-risk (such as those who are HIV-negative and in long-term, monogamous relationships) as well as non-MSM who are currently high-risk but are not caught by the system. The Committee also called for a study of the possibility of pre-screening, another idea to enable those who are currently not allowed to donate to move them into donor status.

  • The reports will be submitted to the Assistant Secretary of HHS and the FDA, which will make a final decision. There's no clear timeline yet.

  • As I wrote on Friday, I actually view this as something of a small step forward. Screening criteria based on risk- which is how Italy, France and Spain screen donors- is what we're going for, rather than any kind of 5-year or 1-year blanket deferral, which would still exclude many gay and bisexual men living normal, healthy lives.

    Or, put more simply, someone like me who is healthy, HIV-negative, and meets all of the other criteria, still could not donate under a 1-year deferral policy. Nor could 95% of the gay/bisexual men I know. Under a low-risk policy, many may be able to.

    So while this archaic and misguided policy unfortunately continues, we may have made a small step forward in revising the donor criteria in a more sensible way that will improve the nation's blood supply as well as eliminate discrimination.

  • For those interested in more, I'll  be on NPR in the Washington, DC area (WAMU 88.5) during one of this evening's tomorrow morning's newscasts, no definite time yet.

    I also participated in the launch of a new podcast show- Same Sex Sunday, which focuses on LGBT issues- and talked about this, as well as Maine's Tuesday primary results and Iceland moving towards same-sex marriage equality with hosts Joe and Phil. You can listen to the interview here, or download on iTunes here.

  • Reading around the local news coverage on this today, I was happy to see coverage of a number of health officials expressing disappointment. San Jose Mercury News:

    "I am completely disheartened that our federal government failed to lift this archaic ban," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager. "The American Red Cross and other respected organizations have long advocated that this policy is medically unnecessary. Today's decision is rooted in ignorance, not science."

    [...]

    "We and other blood centers are at the forefront of research in terms of transmitted infectious agents including among demographics such as men who have sex with men," said Dr. Kim Anh Nguyen, the medical director at the Blood Centers of the Pacific. "So far we have not found other emerging viruses like HIV."

    Because of the ban, the Blood Centers of the Pacific estimates a loss of more than 1,000 pints of potential blood donations each year. Companies and universities, including San Jose State, will not allow organizations to solicit blood donations on their property because of their "discriminatory" practices. Moreover, blood centers from around the United States experience year-round shortages of blood, leaving the Bay Area to import 20 percent of its blood from outside the state.

    "I'm disappointed because I'm afraid that student groups and other groups are going to blame the blood banks," said Nguyen. "Blood centers hope that groups that are disappointed and angered by this don't take it out on patients and continue to support blood donations."

    The Bay Area's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community also has been a longtime advocate of lifting the ban, and many say the policy will continue to ostracize gay men.

    "On the face of it, it just seems to be discriminatory. It's obviously targeted toward gay men," said Chris Flood, the board of directors at San Jose's Billy De Frank LGBT Community Center. "If the concern really is about people who are promiscuous giving blood, then there should be a question about people sleeping with multiple sex partners, not just gay men."

    CBS News:

    "Amongst the gay male community, often people are caught off guard that this policy is still in effect since there have been such advances in detection technology," says Nathan Schaefer, policy director for Gay Men's Health Crisis, who is speaking at the hearings.

    Screening technology can now detect HIV in blood within weeks of infection. When the ban began, it took months.

    "The policy reinforces negative stereotypes about gay men, assuming they are all an equal threat to the public health," Schaefer says, "and reinforces false perceptions about heterosexuals to say they don't represent a risk."

    Chicago Sun-Times:

    "Lots of gay men are not HIV-positive," noted Betty Hill, director of Persad, a counseling center for sexual minorities in Pittsburgh. "You have to figure they would donate in the same percentages as the population at large, if not more so."

    The more that experts and stakeholders in public health communities speak out on this issue, the stronger our side will get.

Thanks again to everyone participated in submitting a public comment. Our fight continues.

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HHS votes against changing current MSM donor ban

by: Adam Bink

Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 17:55

In a 9-6 vote, the HHS Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted against a change to the current policy banning blood donations from men who have had sex with men. Extremely disappointing. However, in a 14-0 vote, the Committee called the policy "sub-optimal" and to submit a report to the Assistant Secretary of HHS that seeks to distinguish between low and high-risk MSM donors. Low-risk would be, for example, HIV-negative gay couples in long-term monogamous relationships, or individuals who are always careful to use protection and not put oneself at risk for infection. Allowing such individuals to donate would improve the nation's chronic blood shortages and also follow the lead of countries like Spain, France and Italy, which distinguish based on risk rather than a blanket ban on an entire community.

A mixed bag, to me. On the one hand, the vote against lifting the ban is disappointing, and this does kick the can down the road a bit. On the other hand, deferrals based on risk are actually what we want to see, rather than a 5-year or 1-year deferral, which were among the possibilities for revision (and which countries like Sweden and Australia currently use), but which are not ideal, as they would not increase the donor supply nearly as much, nor be much more than a blanket ban on sexually active gay and bisexual men, still stigmatizing gays and bisexuals who are simply living their lives.

Or, put more simply, someone like me who is healthy, HIV-negative, and meets all of the other criteria, still could not donate under a 1-year deferral policy. Nor could 95% of the gay/bisexual men I know. Under a low-risk policy, many may be able to.

So, it looks like we may get some change on this policy, albeit it will take some more time.

More when I know it likely early next week.

Thanks again to everyone who submitted a comment. It looks like we may have made a dent to push this further.

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Why I think the FDA ban needs to go

by: YiddishMom2009

Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 13:06

(So this is actually the first diary from my mom (a lurker!) here at OpenLeft. She saw the earlier letters and decided to publish hers. Hope you find the perspective interesting. - promoted by Adam Bink)

Hi everyone, I am the proud mom of Adam Bink, who writes here at OpenLeft. First let me say thank you to the thousands here who read and participate in this work. I am a longtime progressive going back to bus trips down to DC to protest the Vietnam War, and value many of the discussions and action campaigns started here.

And second, I wanted to share my perspective with Adam growing up, my own father's experience with needing constant blood transfusions, in my letter to Dr. Holmberg I wrote yesterday explaining why I think this ban should be revised in a sensible way.

Thank you so very much for helping with this.

Dear Dr. Holmberg,

As an American citizen deeply troubled by the permanent FDA ban on the donation of blood by gay and bisexual men, I truly appreciate your generosity and transparency in providing your email address and your willingness to hear all of the personal stories that exist across our great country.

I have a son, Adam. From the day that Adam proudly brought home the parental permission slip from his high school asking me to allow the American Red Cross to draw a pint of his blood, he was hooked on the "pay it forward" concept of blood donation. All through high school, through summer vacations and throughout his 4 year college career, as soon as the telephone call came from the American Red Cross, his appointment was made. He had watched his elderly grandfather, who suffered from a deadly form of mylodysplastic anemia for 2 years, receive blood transfusions every 6 weeks at first, then every 4 weeks, then bi-weekly, until his eventual death from this disease.

Adam, a devoted grandson, who happens to have an O negative blood type, would attempt to coax, charm and persuade me to join him in blood donating. As I was often the driver, he would have plenty of time to recite all the benefits of donating blood on the long ride to the site. As a daughter of a man who had a deadly disease, I was nervous about giving any of my red blood cells away and when I didn't pass the "iron" test for donating, my dutiful son continued to regularly do the donating for me.

Until the day it all stopped.

I noticed that the calls weren't coming in from the Red Cross any longer and Adam no longer was trying to encourage me to donate. He had come out of the very narrow closet he was in and his blood was no longer desired.

As a mom, I was heartbroken for my son who was such a proponent of giving away what came to him freely. His blood donation card was nearly filled up and he looked forward to the day when his picture would be in the local newspaper as a multiple gallon donor.

I went ahead and reluctantly accepted the FDA ruling, until today.

When I came to understand that there are other ways, new testing options to keep our blood safe, when I see that many other enlightened  nations allow gay men to be donors, when I hear that a substantial coalition of blood donation centers,  including  the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) and America's Blood Centers, support the revision of the ban, and when I realize that I could have lost my dad 2 years earlier than I did if the nation's blood supply was diminished - and very importantly, when I find out that lifting the ban would result in approximately 219,000 additional pints of blood added to the nation's supply each year, then I am compelled to add my voice to the many who are asking for a revision of this outdated ban.

Dr. Holmberg, help other generous Americans, like Adam, give back to those in need and act to strengthen our nation's blood supply. Study the current policy and come up with a medically sound revised policy. As stated on the American Red Cross website "Type O negative blood donors NEEDED! Type donors can make the difference between an adequate blood supply and a summer shortage." Don't let that happen to all of the many recipients in dire need of multiple blood transfusions, like my dad.

And let Adam donate once again, along with all the other men who have the desire and the humanitarian heart to give away what has been given so generously and freely to them.

Discuss :: (4 Comments)

"Banning Queer Blood"

by: Adam Bink

Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 12:17

The following is a letter forwarded to me by Jeff Bennett, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa. Jeff participated in our call to action yesterday and is also an author of a book on this topic, Banning Queer Blood: Rhetorics of Citizenship, Contagion, and Resistance, and he provides a very extensive science-oriented perspective here. It is also posted here.

If you have not already done so, please submit a public comment to jerry.holmberg@hhs.gov, and urge that the ban be revised to improve the nation's health, meet sound scientific practices, and eliminate discrimination. You can view talking points and a form letter for your convenience in my post here.

Dear Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability,

I am writing to encourage the committee to suspend the blood donor deferral policies currently mandated against gay and bisexual men. In a 2009 book-length study of the policy, I found that the measure is built on a foundation of specious and outdated evidence that situates gay and bisexual donors as more diseased and dangerous than their heterosexual counterparts.  The arguments employed to sustain the ban emphasize infectious conditions that pose these donors as threats, overlooking the productive role that gay and bisexual men play in the citizenry.  In this brief statement, I would like to highlight some important points for considering the alleged risks posed by gay and bisexual men, the evidentiary fallacies justifying the current policy, and the future problems should the ban not be overturned.        

First, the committee should consider evidence that positions gay and bisexual men as citizens and blood donors above all other variables.  Procedures for deliberating this subject have tended to assume a priori that these donors are an inherent danger.  By refocusing attention on these men as donors, the advantages of including gay and bisexual men in the process of giving blood would become immediately transparent. As the committee knows, blood donors, and especially repeat blood donors, have characteristics that set them apart from the rest of society.  Repeat blood donors are more health conscious, tend to be low-risk takers, and much evidence suggests their altruistic nature.  Sadly, in the FDA's Blood Products Advisory Committee (BPAC) deliberations about gay and bisexual blood donors, no consideration is ever offered to this most central characteristic.  In my own work, I interviewed a number of gay men who regularly "pass" as straight to donate blood under the current regulations.  All of the men who denied their sexual orientation did so for altruistic reasons that were motivated by obligations relatable to all people:  they had received blood as a child, they had fond memories of giving blood as a family ritual at Thanksgiving, they had a parent who was a repeat donor, they were distraught in the wake of a national disaster. Yet, in all my research, I never found a single government deliberation where citizenship and personal sacrifice were given consideration over gross generalizations of recklessness and disease.  The motivating feature of these policy deliberations should focus on individuals as donors first and other demographic traits second.  Doing so would significantly shift understandings of these donors and the benefits that might follow.                

Shifting the focus to give more attention to gay and bisexual men as altruistic citizen-donors seems especially urgent in light of past discussions.  Even a cursory glance at the deliberations about gay donors reveals that the current policy is built on a foundation of suspect evidence.  In my analysis of transcripts from the BPAC I found that much of the data used to scrutinize gay and bisexual populations came from questionable studies that collected information from bars, STD clinics, and "various street locations" (the language used in one of the meetings). STD clinical data seemed especially egregious because it foregrounds disease and then made deductions about all gay men.  The steadfast articulation of gay men with affliction surfaced time and again, even when it was not pertinent to the measure in question.  Discussion of HHV-8 during BPAC meetings illustrates this point well.  HHV-8, as many officials noted during those forums, is not transmissible through blood transfusions and is generally associated with HIV-positive populations, not all gay and bisexual men. Indeed, the committee never gave close attention to men who are health conscious, monogamous, and who engage in safer sex practices.   The benefit that would be derived from such consideration is clear.  A report from the Williams Institute indicated recently that lifting the ban could add another 219,000 pints of blood to the national supply.      

Finally, and equally important, because of these generalizations young people are increasingly turning away from becoming repeat donors.  Younger people are connecting this important communal ritual with discrimination, potentially turning a generation of repeat donors, gay and straight alike, into ambivalent citizens.  This generation, which is more accepting of LGBT people than any in history, are poised to continue resisting any discriminatory policy.  There have been protests at universities, colleges, and high schools across the country and this issue will only gain further momentum if current policy trends continue.  A recent Facebook page dedicated to this issue attracted over three thousand members in just over a month.  To help restore the faith young people have in this vital community practice, the committee should move to treat particular sexual risks with deferrals for all people regardless of sexual orientation.  A one-year or five-year deferral exclusively directed at men who have sex with men will only exacerbate the problematic nature of this policy, essentially telling all donors that our science is fundamentally flawed and that gay and bisexual men can never really be trusted.  Three years ago it was discovered that the number of people eligible to give blood in this country had been over-estimated by 66 million donors.  As a country, we simply cannot afford to lose new repeat donors because of a misguided policy that harbors outdated stereotypes of gay and bisexual men.    

The American Red Cross, which collects about half of the blood in this country, receives donations from approximately 22,000 people everyday.  And each of them, regardless of race, sex, religion, age, or sexuality, is confronted with a question that positions gay and bisexual men as contagions.  While it is impossible to know how each person individually reacts, it must surely give pause to many.  I hope the committee alleviates this stigmatizing discourse by revoking the policy, keeping in mind the sound testing measures we now have in place and the potential to collect blood from additional repeat donors.  

Thank you for your time and consideration.  Please, feel welcome to contact me for further discussion or information.                

Jeffrey A. Bennett, Ph.D.
Author of Banning Queer Blood:  Rhetorics of Citizenship, Contagion, and Resistance.  Tuscaloosa, AL:  University of Alabama Press, 2009.

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"I was again painfully reminded that society still thinks of me as something less than good"

by: Adam Bink

Fri Jun 11, 2010 at 09:45

This morning, the HHS Committee on Blood Safety and Availability is considering revising the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. Yesterday, OpenLeft and over a dozen other LGBT and allied blogs and bloggers asked you, our readers, to submit a public comment in support of revising the ban.

This morning, I wanted to share with you two things: one is the live streaming video of the committee hearing. Lori Knowles from the University of Alberta is currently giving an amazing presentation on how the policy stigmatizes all gay men as diseased and a threat to society, that AIDS is a gay male disease, and that the AIDS test is unreliable.

Next up at approximately 10:00 AM, Gay Men's Health Crisis, an organization with which I've been working on this issue and a group that eventually became the first major organization to help those living with HIV/AIDS back in the early 1980s, will be presenting a case for revising the ban for about half an hour or so. If you'd like to see experts make a case on why the ban should be revised, I urge you to watch. It really is a fascinating discussion. Later this morning at 11:05 AM EST, there will be an open public comment period. You can view the live streaming video and the agenda for the rest of the day here.

Second, I want to share something with you. A number of people felt inspired by the call to action yesterday and forwarded me the letters they submitted to Dr. Jerry Holmberg, the Executive Secretary of the Committee tasked with accepting public comments. With his permission, I've republished a letter in the extended entry from Tim Kerr below (which is where the title of this post comes from), who read about our blogswarm on Pam's House Blend and Joe.My.God and took action. I'll be sharing a few more throughout the day.

Please read Tim's letter and if you have not already done so, please submit a public comment to jerry.holmberg@hhs.gov, and urge that the ban be revised to improve the nation's health, meet sound scientific practices, and eliminate discrimination. You can view talking points and a form letter for your convenience in my post here.

Thanks for taking action.

Dr. Holmberg:

Thankfully I haven't yet needed a blood transfusion (knock on wood), but I have been personally affected by the ban on blood donation by gay men and I'd like to share with you how.

I've always been active in my community and worked hard to try to improve the world around me in ways both large and small, for example by representing indigent clients in the courtroom and administrative hearings, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or just helping someone with a baby carriage down the steps of the subway or through a door.  In high school and college, once I was old enough, I gave blood during every blood drive, wore my stickers proudly, and guilted those around me into doing the same.  I gave blood even when there was no blood drive going at school.  This was the natural thing for me to do.  It's how I try to live my life.  But I haven't been allowed to give blood for over a decade now, and I've never truly understood why.

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Blogswarm: Revise the Ban

by: Adam Bink

Thu Jun 10, 2010 at 09:30

Today, OpenLeft is participating in a blogswarm with AMERICABlog, AKAWilliam.com, Bilerico Project, Blabbeando, Change.org, DailyKos, David Badash, Firedoglake-The Seminal, Good As You, Joe Mirabella, Joe. My. God., LGBTPOV, Mike Signorile, and Rod 2.0. We are asking you to submit a public comment in support of revising the discriminatory and medically unwarranted FDA lifetime ban on blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man (MSM) since 1977.

Today, the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability is kicking off a two-day meeting to reconsider the FDA ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men (MSM). The current policy has been in place since 1985 when no HIV testing was available and little was known about HIV/AIDS. Since then, while many policies towards blood donations have changed, and HIV testing has significantly advanced to the point where a permanent ban no longer makes sense, the ban still remains in place. The ban is also discriminatory in that it unfairly targets gay and bisexual men because it does not distinguish between high-risk and low-risk MSM, banning potential MSM donors who are HIV-negative and consistently practice safe sex or are in long-term monogamous relationships, while others with a significantly higher risk of HIV infection are subject to less restrictive deferrals or none at all. The ban also contributes to a dangerously and chronically low blood supply in a country in which approximately just 5% of all eligible donors give.

The NYC and DC City Councils have recently passed resolutions by votes of 42-1 and 13-0, respectively, urging a revision of the ban. Sen. Kerry and 17 other Democratic Senators urged the same in a letter to the FDA. Today, we are asking that you join their voices in calling for a more sensible policy.

Dr. Jerry Holmberg is the Executive Secretary of the Advisory Committee, and is tasked with accepting formal public comments from both organizations and individuals. He has made his e-mail available for this purpose. Please take a minute to e-mail Dr. Holmberg via jerry.holmberg@hhs.gov and urge him and the committee to revise the ban on blood donations from MSM.

Similar to our "Release your anger!" action aimed at the FDIC on a financial penalty for banks taking excessive risks, there is an open public comment period in which the committee considers outside opinions- and an opportunity for supporters of a sensible policy to make a dent. In writing the note, you can use the facts we have listed below, a form letter we've put together at the bottom of this list post that summarizes the rationale for ending the ban, a personal note- or all of the above! My close friend was just diagnosed with a very serious type of leukemia. She has received half a dozen whole blood transfusions and several platelets transfusions. I am a healthy, HIV-negative, type O negative individual who has previously donated and who meets all additional critera for donating. I want to give, but this policy senselessly won't let me. I just e-mailed Dr. Holmberg with that message and other sound reasons.

Please take a minute to do the same, and drop Dr. Holmberg and the Committee an e-mail at jerry.holmberg@hhs.gov. Urge a revision of the policy that incorporates sound medical, scientific, and non-discriminatory guidelines.

The additional reasons you can cite are below.

  • Newer tests have shortened the window period in which HIV is undetectable to between 9 and 11 days. A permanent, lifetime ban is outdated and no longer makes sense.

  • The U.S. blood supply is frequently at critically low levels. Less than 5% of all eligible donors give, while donation recipients include mothers delivering babies, trauma victims, cancer patients, transplant patients and others. The respected Williams Institute estimates that lifting the ban would result in an estimated 130,150 additional donors who are likely to donate 219,000 additional pints of blood each year, while shortening deferral to one year would result in 53,269 additional men who are likely to donate 89,716 pints each year.

  • The ban is a form of discrimination by unfairly targeting men who have sex with men, or effectively the gay and bisexual community. A permanent, blanket ban is instituted on any male who has had sex with another male even once since 1977 and without regard for his partner's HIV status nor for frequency, safe sex practices, or duration since. Yet if one has sex with an opposite-sex partner who is knowingly HIV-positive, he or she can give again in a year. This is discrimination and it is wrong.

  • Other countries like Australia, Japan, Sweden and Russia have either revised or completely lifted the deferral period, while Italy, Spain and France screen donors based on risk rather than a blanket ban on a community.

  • The American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, American Association of Blood Banks, American Medical Association, and a coalition of nearly fifty other organizations all support a revision of the ban.

You can use these reasons in combination with your own personal ones, or the form letter in the extended entry. Please submit a public comment via jerry.holmberg@hhs.gov, and urge that the ban be revised to improve the nation's health, meet sound scientific practices, and eliminate discrimination. Thanks for helping improve the nation's health and eliminating another form of discrimination.

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How many might donate if they could

by: Adam Bink

Thu Jun 03, 2010 at 11:50

The Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law, which has done a lot of excellent population studies in the past, has a new report out estimating the effects of lifting the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. It's a ban that the American Red Cross and American Association of Blood Banks calls "medically and scientifically unwarranted" and is also blatantly, discriminatory, given that individuals who have HIV-positive opposite-sex partners are asked to defer donations for one year, but a gay man has sex just once since 1977 with a positive OR negative partner, and he is slapped with a lifetime ban. The current ban excludes nearly 7 million potentially eligible men from becoming donors. It makes no sense.

Next week on June 10-11, the HHS Advisory Council on Blood Safety and Availability will meet to reconsider the FDA ban.

The Williams Institute used the 2000-2008 General Social Survey and 2008 American Community Survey to estimate the number of men who have sex with men in their lifetime; in the past five years; and in the past twelve months. Based on the direction a number of other countries have gone, the FDA rule could be revised to a deferral based on risk rather than orientation, or a one-year deferral, which other countries, such as Sweden, Australia and Japan , have adopted. My hope is that the one-year deferral also adopts risk as a factor. The Williams Institute also uses American Red Cross statistics on the number of donors among the eligible population and the number of donations per eligible donor. Their results:

If the current MSM ban were completely lifted, we estimate that an additional 130,150 men would likely donate 219,200 additional pints of blood each year.

If MSM who have not had sexual contact with another man in the past twelve months were permitted to donate, we estimate that 53,269 additional men are likely to donate 89,716 pints each year. If MSM who have not had sexual contact with another man in the past five years were permitted to donate, we estimate that 42,286 additional men would make 71,218 blood donations.

You can read the full report here. There is also an FDA ban on organ donation by MSMs who have had sex in the past five years. The Williams Institutes estimates a 2.9% increase in donations, or about 900 more organ donations per year.

A very good friend of mine has just started chemotherapy this week for a very aggressive leukemia, a kind of blood cancer. She's received four whole blood transfusions and a platelet transfusion so far. This healthy, HIV negative, type O negative donor would be first in line to donate to her to help her stay alive, and there should be no reason I can't. Revising the ban is the medically sound thing to do to help people like my friend, eliminate a blatantly discriminatory practice, and improve the nation's health.

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Moving forward towards a science-based, non-discriminatory policy on blood donations

by: Adam Bink

Tue Jun 01, 2010 at 18:00

Next week, the FDA, which oversees policy relating to donor eligibility to donate blood, will meet to consider revising the ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) giving blood. The ban has been in place since 1986 in an era of fear around HIV infection spread through the national blood supply coupled with the lack of sound testing mechanisms as well as treatment.

Since then, the medical community has moved significantly in both testing, diagnosis and treatment. Specifically, testing is now available that allows for a significantly shorter window period when HIV is undetectable of approximately 9 to 11 days. Yet still, a lifetime ban still is slapped on anyone who has had sex, even once, with another man since 1977, and it doesn't even matter whether or not the individual was HIV-positive or negative. The lifetime ban obviously applies significantly to the the population of self-identified gay men, not to mention other individuals who are heterosexuals and experimented once (say, in college), identify as bisexual or questioning, and so forth. But if you're a heterosexual who has had sex with another knowingly  HIV-positive person, you get a one-year deferral, and then can donate again.

The law makes zero sense and has been something that has angered me for a long time. My grandfather received many blood transfusions and donating in the memory of people like him who need help has always motivated me. I am O negative and the Red Cross keeps calling me to ask me to give, and each time my anger at being forced to decline grows. I want to give, as do many, many other people. This has advanced to a point where it is not only bad science and discrimination, but damaging to the nation's medical health. You always read and hear about blood supply being critically low, and it's true. Less than 5% of all eligible donors in the United States give. Blood donation recipients include mothers delivering babies, trauma victims, cancer patients, transplant patients, and more. Other countries like Sweden, Argentina, Australia and Japan have either revised or completely lifted the ban, while Italy, Spain and France screen donors based on risk rather than a blanket ban on a community.

The FDA last met in 2006 to look at revising the policy and did not take action. The American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, American Association of Blood Banks and the American Medical Association all support a revised policy. It's time to revise the ban in favor of a sound, science-based, non-discriminatory policy that is both medically warranted and just.

Today, I'm happy to say DC Councilmember David Catania led passage of a resolution in favor of such a revision. It passed unanimously, and follows the NYC Council recently passing a similar resolution by a vote of 42-1. You can read the text of the resolution in the extended entry. OpenLeft will also be rolling out an action you can take to help revise the ban.

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