ORANGE — A local Red Cross blood drive coordinator has quit because he, as a gay man, is banned from donating blood, highlighting the controversy over a 30-year-old rule.
Bryon Doyle, of Orange, sent the Red Cross his resignation by email Wednesday. In the email, which he also sent to The Times Argus, he said, “After putting on three community blood drives and collecting over 100 pints of blood for the American Red Cross, I am ashamed to say I supported such an event that treated myself and others like we were are not good enough and that our blood is not worthy for your cause.”
Banning gay men from donating blood is a policy of the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the Red Cross. The FDA has had a ban in place since 1983 because of concerns that gay men may pass on HIV to those who receive their blood.
The current incarnation has been on the books since 1993 and says a man cannot give blood if he has had sex with another man since 1977, which the FDA considers the start of the AIDS outbreak.
The Red Cross and other blood collection organizations have opposed the ban in recent years. A representative of the FDA said in an email Thursday that the Department of Health and Human Services, of which the FDA is a part, is looking into a study on possible alterations to the ban that would let gay men donate blood.
All blood donations are tested for HIV and other diseases, and the department says the effectiveness of that testing, as well as public opposition to the ban, has prompted the investigation.
Doyle said Thursday that he had no idea the ban existed until he saw a post about it recently on Facebook. He had been organizing blood drives for the past year and a half in the Chelsea area and donated blood five times in the past. He said that when he filled out the screening form for donors, he checked “no” on the question about sex with other men because he felt it was none of the Red Cross’ business.
When Doyle contacted the Red Cross to verify the ban and to disclose he is gay, he said, he was told he could no longer donate blood.
Doyle said that before he found out about the ban, he knew about 25 gay men who were ready to be first-time blood donors, but now the Red Cross will lose out on their donation “because they like guys instead of girls.”
The chief medical officer of the American Red Cross, Dr. Richard Benjamin, said Thursday he was sad to hear that Doyle had quit because of the ban. He cited a 2010 joint statement by the Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers and the American Association of Blood Banks to the FDA that recommended a change in criteria for male blood donors and reaffirmed a statement by the three organizations in 2006 that called the ban “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”
Hinesburg Rep. Bill Lippert, who is gay, called the ban shortsighted.
“The Red Cross and hospitals need robust blood donations, and I’m sure there are gay men, who pose no risk to the blood supply, who would be more than willing to be donors,” he said.
Lippert said the Vermont House passed a resolution in May asking the FDA to reduce the ban to one year after sexual contact with another man. He said that if the ban were removed, he would consider donating, even though he hates needles.
He also said the ban makes little sense today because all donated blood is thoroughly tested for diseases.
In his resignation letter, Doyle referenced a decision by a Department of Health and Human Services advisory committee on blood safety to keep the ban in place. The committee makes recommendations to the FDA.
Dr. Roslyn Yomtovian, a professor at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, is on that committee. She voted to remove the ban because she feels it is “ridiculous” and “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
Yomtovian said the wording of “men who have had sex with other men, at any time since 1977” is far too general. She said it does not take into account men who may have had sex with another man just once.
Yomtovian said the wording is overly broad to assure public comfort. She believes people are being politically correct instead of asking specific questions about a person’s behavior that may increase the chances of contracting a disease.
She also said the lifetime ban for gay men was not consistent with other reasons someone may be barred from giving blood, such as traveling to an exotic country known to have transmittable diseases or using intravenous drugs. The prohibition on donating after those behaviors typically lasts a year.
Yomtovian said other countries are starting to rethink their own bans on gay men donating blood. According to news reports, Mexico removed its ban recently, and Canada is in the process of dropping its ban.
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