Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) today called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to explain their defense of the law that bans gay men in America from donating blood. The American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, the AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks), the American Medical Association, have all publicly called on the FDA to modify the lifetime deferral policy for men who have sex with men.
Last week, Kerry and 17 of his colleagues wrote FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg asking her to repeal the outdated and scientifically unjustified ban. The same day, the FDA released a statement to the press stating the ban "is based on current science and data," but has yet to respond to Kerry and his colleagues.
"The medical and scientific communities have been crystal clear that there is simply no scientific evidence to warrant a lifetime ban on gay Americans donating blood," said Sen. Kerry. "If the FDA knows something to the contrary, I would love to hear it, because without hard facts, this ban makes no sense. Today, married gay men in committed, stable relationships are prohibited from donating blood for the rest of their lives, while a heterosexual who has had sex with a prostitute need only wait a year. That does not strike me as a sound scientific conclusion."
Senator Kerry recently published an op-ed on the ban in Bay Windows, New England's largest gay and lesbian newspaper.
The full text of Kerry's second letter to Hamburg is below:
March 9, 2010
The Honorable Margaret Hamburg
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Ave
Silver Spring, MD 20993-0002
Dear Commissioner Hamburg:
As you know, I sent a letter to your office along with 17 of my Senate colleagues on March 4 requesting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initiate a review of the deferral guidelines for potential blood donors, particularly the policy that bans all men who have sex with men (MSM) from ever donating blood. As we stated, the American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, the AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks), the American Medical Association, and many others have all publicly called on the FDA to modify the lifetime deferral policy for MSM, with the blood banks asserting that the current ban is "medically and scientifically unwarranted."
I was therefore surprised to discover that, rather than responding to our letter, the FDA apparently immediately released a statement to the press dismissing our call for a review. The statement claimed that the lifetime "deferral policy is based on current science and data."
We did not write to the FDA to defend people's desire to donate blood. We specifically made our argument based on the scientific testimony of medical experts. We all agree and have made clear that this is first and foremost an issue of sensible health and safety policy. Please share with us the current science and data referenced in your statement used to continue to justify this policy.
The FDA defers all donors deemed to be of high risk for HIV, including those who have had sex with prostitutes and those who have had recent sexual intercourse with someone who has HIV. However, unless these instances involved homosexual activity, the deferral period is one year rather than an outright lifetime ban. Additionally, there is zero expressed concern with unprotected heterosexual sex during the two to three week window period in which the administered HIV tests on donated blood are unreliable. If there is scientific data to support this apparent double standard in deferral periods, I would request the FDA share this information.
We all understand and strongly support medically justified blood donor deferral policies to ensure recipients of blood transfusions only receive safe and healthy blood products. Current science does not, however, justify a blanket lifetime ban on men who have sex with men. In my home state of Massachusetts, gay men can today marry their partners. Yet, pursuant to this FDA policy, these same married men are prohibited from contributing to the blood supply for the rest of their lives, while a heterosexual who has had sex with a prostitute need only wait a year. That does not strike me as a sound scientific conclusion.
My colleagues and I who signed the March 4 letter look forward to a more formal agency response. It is my hope that this response includes a pledge by the FDA to reconsider this outdated policy.
John F. Kerry
United States Senator