Openly gay Colorado Rep. Jared Polis and Florida rep. Alan Grayson on Tuesday joined the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and more than 130 members of Congress to urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to stop banning gay men from donating blood. The rule dictates that this group is at a high risk of HIV and is therefore banned from donating blood if they have had sexual intercourse with another man in the past 12 months.
The lawmakers were supported by the LGBTQ rights groups National Gay Blood Drive, Equality Federation, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Grayson, who represents Orlando, said the Pulse nightclub shooting should be used to express renewed respects for human rights, according to CNN. The lawmaker remarked that blood donation screening should be based only on science and a potential donor’s healthy and monogamous sexual behavior regardless of their orientation.
The day after the Orlando nightclub shooting, two blocks were cordoned off of potential donors willing to help that day under the rain, Grayson said, according to ABC News. Grayson, who believes new testing could be conducted to test more accurately for HIV, added that it was unacceptable to turn away people under such circumstances.
The June 12 shooting that left 49 people dead and dozens more injured led to a massive influx of donors to Orlando’s OneBlood donation center as it put out an urgent call for O Neg, O Pos and AB Plasma donors. But friends, loved ones, and even spouses of the victims were not allowed to help, according to Polis.
He said the gender of a man’s partner was not linked to a risky sexual behavior and that there was nothing different about the blood of gay or bisexual people in America, ABC News reported.
Polis has been fighting to overturn the blood donation policy ruled by the FDA and told CNN in a conference call that it was time for the restrictions to be updated, saying that the government should immediately tackle this issue.
“A discriminatory FDA ban that requires gay men to be celibate for one year to donate meant that thousands of would-be healthy donors were turned away from Orlando blood banks that desperately needed their blood,” noted Courtney Hagen of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, as quoted by CNN.
Hagen added that those potential donors were unable to do such a simple act to contribute to their community that was under attack.
The FDA argues it aims at keeping patients safe
The FDA’s policy states that each blood unit donated in the country must undergo several tests for Hepatitis B and C, HIV, and syphilis, among other infectious diseases. The agency told CNN that it has considered individual risk assessment for HIV rather than the current one-year deferral for men who have sex with other men, called MSMs.
However, it results difficult to prove the truth and reliability of donors who say they are monogamous in any sexual relationship. The FDA said evidence shows that self-reporting presents significant problems.
The FDA keeps reviewing the deferral policies of donors to make sure that they are based on the latest scientific knowledge. A spokeswoman said Tara Goodin said that predictions of future changes in the blood donation policy were not easy to predict because the reviewing process must be data-driven. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is assisting the FDA in the implementation of a safety monitoring system that will be crucial to provide data to inform policy actions.
The original ban was even more restrictive
The FDA first banned MSMs from donating blood in 1983 as an urgent response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Women who have sexual contact with that group and transgender people were also included in the ban due to their high risk of the virus. The agency’s decision, it argued, sought the safety of the national blood supply.
In September 1985, the FDA officially advised that “blood establishments indefinitely defer male donors who have had sex with another man, even one time, since 1977 … due to the strong clustering of AIDS illness and the subsequent discovery of high rates of HIV infection in the population,” according to the report by CNN.
It was not until last December when the agency updated the policy by recommending that MSMs must be deferred only 12 months since their last sexual intercourse with another man. The American Medical Association reacted by welcoming the end of the indefinite ban.
“The AMA has been a strong advocate for eliminating public policies that do not align with scientific evidence and best ethical practices in public policy,” the American Medical Association said, CNN reported.
For its part, the Human Rights Campaign said the change was a significant “step in the right direction” but noted that the latest policy was still far from providing an acceptable solution to the problem because it continued to be discriminatory.