WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is leading a group of 85 House and Senate lawmakers criticizing what she’s says is the sluggish pace the nation’s top health officials have taken at reevaluating blood donation policies for gay men.
The Wisconsin Democrat has sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius expressing those concerns and requesting information about the agency’s ongoing efforts to review the policy.
Under current regulations, men who have sex with other men are banned from donating blood for life, a policy put in place during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
“Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic more than 30 years ago, the scientific community’s understanding of the virus has changed dramatically. We have seen vast advances in blood screening technology, blood donation policy changes in other countries allowing MSM to donate, and opposition from our nation’s blood banks who have called the current ban ‘medically and scientifically unwarranted.’
“Our current policies turn away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages. Further, 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.”
The letter notes that the American Medical Association has adopted a resolution opposing the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on blood donations by gay men. The organization said the FDA should instead focus on individual risk factors rather than just sexual orientation.
Opponents of the policy also say it needlessly turns away healthy blood donors at times when blood donations are needed.
Others who have signed the bipartisan letter include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and openly gay members of the U.S. House, Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.).
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