ACROSS AMERICA — The Food and Drug Administration is under mounting pressure amid a historic blood shortage to end a longstanding rule that requires abstinence from gay or bisexual men before they give blood.
The American Red Cross earlier this week said it is in the midst of a "national blood crisis," and asked Americans to roll up their sleeves and give blood to replenish the blood reserve, which usually maintains a five-day supply, but currently has a less than one-day supply. The shortage, occurring two years into the coronavirus pandemic, is forcing doctors to delay life-saving treatments for those in need.
Twenty-two U.S. senators wrote a letter to the FDA, the regulatory agency responsible for oversight of the nation's blood supply, and the Department of Health and Human Services asking them to replace what they said is a "discriminatory" rule.
"We must adopt evidence-based policies focused on assessment of an individual's risk, not inaccurate and antiquated stereotypes," they wrote, asking for a briefing next month on whether the FDA plans to update its blood donation policies.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already requires that before donated blood is added to the reserve, it must be thoroughly tested for infectious disease pathogens, including HIV and Hepatitis C. The American Red Cross estimates the risk of a U.S. patient getting a transfusion of donated HIV-positive blood at 1 in 1.5 million.
The senators noted in their letter that worldwide, other countries have "led on this issue by scrapping their discriminatory blood donation policies." In October, Israel lifted all restrictions on blood donations by gay and bisexual men, and last month, Canada's blood regulatory agency proposed removing all screening questions focused on gender and sexuality.
Pressure to modernize blood donation regulations in keeping with scientific research also coming from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights group, which said in a statement the current policy is "outdated" and "does not reflect the state of the science, and continues to unfairly stigmatize one segment of society."
A 2014 study from the Williams Institute at UCLA said that if restrictions on blood donations by men having sex with men were eliminated entirely, it would increase the total annual blood supply by 2 percent to 4 percent, adding between 345,000 to 615,300 pints of blood every year.
A pint of blood can save three lives, according to the Red Cross.
The FDA outright banned gay and bisexual men from donating blood in 1983 in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, then in 2015 amended the policy to allow them to donate blood after abstaining from sex for a year. The period of abstinence was amended again to three months in April 2020 after blood donations dropped off in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.