HRC Blog

HHS Outlines Research Efforts to Support Removal of Gay Blood Donor Ban

Post submitted by Brian Moulton, Former HRC Legal Director

Yesterday, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL), longstanding advocates for changing the current policy barring gay and bisexual men from donating blood for life, released a Q&A provided to them by the Department of Health and Human Services outlining next steps toward ending the ban. 

As you may recall, in June 2010, HHS’s Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted to retain the “lifetime deferral” for gay and bisexual men, but also concluded that the current policy is “suboptimal” because it keeps out low-risk gay and bisexual donors while failing to prevent high-risk heterosexual individuals from donating.  The Committee recommended further research to support a revised blood donation policy that would increase the number of healthy donors while continuing to protect the safety of the blood supply.

The Q&A document indicates that those research efforts are underway, in four key areas identified by the Committee: How the risk of blood transmissible diseases (e.g. HIV) in the current donor population relate to the risk factors in donors;

  • The cause of accidental releases of blood not cleared for use that potentially put the blood supply at risk;
  • Whether potential donors correctly understand the current questionnaire and if gay and bisexual men would comply with modified deferral criteria; and
  • If other screening strategies, like pre-donation testing, for gay and bisexual men (and potentially other generally higher-risk populations) would assure blood safety while enabling data collection that could demonstrate safe blood collection from a subset of gay and bisexual men.

The full Q&A is available here. While this document demonstrates HHS’s continued commitment to doing this research and moving toward a better policy, it also indicates that funding limitations could hamper their progress.  HRC will continue to push the department to revise the current policy and urge Congress to provide the funding necessary to develop better, fairer blood donation criteria.

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