STEVENS POINT, Wis. — Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin is leading a push in Washington to allow gay men to donate blood.
Gay men have not been allowed to donate blood in the United States since the emergence of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s. The ban was instituted because gay men had a higher rate of infection. The disease can be transmitted through sexual activity and blood transfusions.
Baldwin and 84 other Democratic lawmakers sent a letter Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying the ban fosters "an atmosphere that promotes discrimination," according to Gannett Washington Bureau (http://spjour.nl/13Adeqc ). Baldwin is the first openly gay U.S. senator.
She notes there have been dramatic improvements in blood screening since the early 1980s and the medical community has a better understanding of the virus. Baldwin and other senators say blood donors should be accepted based on health factors and not their sexual orientation.
Men who have had sex with men currently face a lifetime ban as donors, regardless of when the sexual activity happened.
The American Medical Association adopted a policy in June opposing the ban. It says donors should be chosen based on their individual health.
"The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science," AMA Trustee William Kobler said in a statement.
The National Hemophilia Foundation is among the groups that say it's still too soon to lift the ban. Foundation Vice President John Indence said it wants to make sure the science is sound. About 10,000 hemophiliacs contracted HIV or AIDS and hepatitis through blood transfusions in the 1980s, and many died, he said.
"Our community was devastated," he said.
HHS launched a study last year to determine whether other ways of screening donors would adequately protect the blood supply. An HHS committee had said in 2010 that the ban was "suboptimal" but should stay in place until more research was done.