By Elise Viebeck - 06/09/12 05:04 PM EDT
A large group of congressional Democrats and one independent urged federal regulators to revise a policy that forbids healthy gay and bisexual men from donating blood, calling the ban discriminatory and poorly designed.
Men who have sex with men, or MSM, cannot donate blood because they are generally at higher risk for HIV, hepatitis B and other "transfusion-transmissible infections," according to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department.
"We encourage the department to move swiftly to execute this promising pilot and to use its results to appropriately revise today’s discriminatory policy," the letter reads.
It goes on to note that while "healthy gay and bisexual men continue to be banned for life," the Food and Drug Administration "allows a man who has had sex with an HIV-positive woman to give blood after waiting only one year."
"This double standard is inconsistent and indefensible," the letter continues. "Our current policies turn away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages."
Blood-collection groups tend to back one-year waiting periods on donations after male-to-male sex, according to reports, and the American Red Cross gives its support for a "data-based reconsideration of deferral criteria" on its website.
The issue is an emotional one for gay-rights groups, as well as groups representing patients who rely on plasma protein therapies for daily living.
Advocates point out that some countries screen for high-risk behaviors instead of sexual orientation when considering who is eligible to donate blood.
"Equality for the LGBT community is closer than ever but outdated and discriminatory policies like this must evolve to match advancements in science and technology," Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said in a statement Friday.
Quigley and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) have led efforts in Congress calling on regulators to revise the ban.
Kerry applauded HHS for "relying on the science of today, not the myths of twenty years ago."
"I’m confident that the findings of these new studies will pave the way to get this policy off the books," he said.