HHS Will Look Again at Gay Blood Ban


The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) will re-examine the blanket blood donation ban on men who have sex with other men (MSM), it has emerged.

Noting that current policy is “sub-optimal,” HHS said in a question-and-answer report requested by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) that the Blood, Organ, and Tissue Safety Working Group will assess four final areas of study that need to be evaluated before a change in the policy.

The HHS study will seek to determine:

  • how the risk of blood transmissible diseases in the current donor population relate to risk factors in donors;
  • the root cause of Quarantine Release Errors (QRE), the accidental release of blood not cleared for use;
  • if potential donors correctly understand the current questionnaire and if men who have sex with men (MSM) would comply with modified deferral criteria; AND
  • if alternative screening strategy (e.g. pre- and/or post qualifying donation infectious disease testing) for MSM (and potentially other high-risk donors) would assure blood safety while enabling collection of data that could demonstrate safe blood collection from a subset of MSM or other currently deferred donors.

Any man that has had sex with another man since 1977, no matter how infrequently or safely, is permanently barred from donating under the current policy.

The Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability for HHS voted last year to keep the ban in effect, saying that there was insufficient data to support revising the policy. However, the committee also gave license for research into assessing whether “low-risk” men who have sex with other men might be able to give blood.

In the question and answer document, HHS refrains from explicitly stating whether the donation ban will end following this new research, saying instead, “When these studies are complete, the Department is committed to a full evidence-based evaluation of the policy. If the data indicate that a change is possible while protecting the blood supply, we will consider a change to the policy.”

Senator John Kerry praised HHS for its latest steps toward reassessing the ban, saying, “We’ve been working on this a long time in a serious way and I’m glad Secretary Sebelius responded with concrete steps to finally remove this policy from the books.” He added, “HHS is doing their due-diligence and we plan to stay focused on the end game – a safe blood supply and an end to this discriminatory ban.”

Representative Mike Quigley, who has also lobbied for a change in policy, is quoted as saying, “This announcement by HHS means we’re moving in the direction of finally ending this antiquated and discriminatory policy. Senator Kerry and I will continue to push for a behavior-based screening process both in the name of fairness and a safer blood supply.”

Opponents say the blanket ban has been kept in place due to institutionalized homophobia and antiquated notions about HIV risk among gay men, and as such a move toward evidence-based recommendations has been welcomed.


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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Garrett Albright.


Eternal Gardener
Eternal G6 years ago

What Beth M. says!

Bruce C.
Bruce C.6 years ago

I've donated 200 times (mostly platelets/plasma) over the past 25 years and also worked at HHS. There's no good reason, with proper testing and screening, that gays shouldn't be permitted to donate. Sadly, when I'm donating, I mostly see older (40 ) men doing most of the donations. The population of donors needs to increase. Gays shouldn't be prohibited any more.

I agree wholeheartedly with Melanie -- it's time to the "moralization" of blood donation, and enable a new demographic to donate, as long as it is healthy for the recipient and the donor.

Brian Fitzpatrick

HIV/AIDS is not a homosexual disease. Straight people have been known to get it as well---stupid people piss me off!

Lilithe Magdalene

Awesome! Hope the rescind the ban.

melanie blow
melanie blow6 years ago

Well, this is a step in the right direction.

I work in the blood industry (the Quarantine Release Errors catagory- that's me). And it's frustrating as hell to us that we have to defer MSM's. It creates a lot of bad blood (pardon the pun), it has caused some downright hostility when there are blood drives at places of employment and someone who isn't "out" at work is asked that question. Plus, we are trying hard to recruit more male donors, not fewer, because male donors tend to be easier needlesticks, have higher iron, and don't get pregnant, which can cause perminant changes in someone's blood.

In 1980, all that blood banks could do to prevent HIV transmission was defer high-risk donors and pray. And back then, gay men were distinctly a high risk group. Then they started developing tests for HIV, and the tests now are increadibly sophisticated. And in the mean time, HIV entrenched itself in the heterosexual community. There aren't enough nuns to meet our blood donor needs, we need to accept the fact that adults have sex, and as such pose a risk of contracting HIV and other nasty viruses. As personal and embarassing as some find the deferal questions, they could be worse. But that isn't the answer- the answer is testing.

Deborah King
Deborah King6 years ago

I wonder if any of you folks know that you will be excluded from being a blood donor for a YEAR if you've ever taken a Royal Caribbean cruise that stops at their private beach at Labadee? Yup--thousands of people each week stop there for a few hours, and they can't donate because it's supposedly in a malaria-prone area. I wrote to Royal Caribbean, and their answer was basically "so what, we don't care. It's Haiti's problem." That's actually pretty close to a direct quote, in fact.

Gemma M.

I hope they remove the ban.

Tania M.
Tania Morse6 years ago

Frankly, since they already test the blood for HIV before releasing it for donation, I don't see why this ban is still in place.