The Biden administration commented for the first time on Tuesday on the Food and Drug Administration’s policy that bars men who have sex with men from donating blood if they have not been celibate for a certain period. LGBTQ+ advocates have called for the ban to be lifted.
In a statement to ABC News, a White House official said the administration recognizes the painful origins of the policy, which came about during the beginnings of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s.
“The legacy of bans on blood donation continues to be painful, especially for LGBTQI+ communities,” the White House official said. “The President is committed to ensuring that this policy is based on science, not fiction or stigma. While there are no new decisions to announce at the moment, the FDA is currently supporting the ADVANCE study, a scientific study to develop relevant scientific evidence and inform any potential policy changes.”
U.S. senators sent a letter last week to the Food and Drug Administration requesting the agency lift restrictions on blood donations by gay and bisexual men.
“For the first time, the nation’s leading blood donation organizations, including the Red Cross, have declared a national blood supply crisis due to the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the senators, led by Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, wrote in the letter, released last Thursday. We urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to quickly act on the best available science and update its outdated and discriminatory blood donor deferral policies for men who have sex with men (MSM), a long overdue step that would dramatically increase the eligible donor base.”
The policy’s history goes back to the beginning of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s. The FDA put a lifetime donation ban on men who have sex with men. However, in 2015, that was changed to a requirement for 12 months of celibacy before donation, due to advances in HIV testing. In 2020, the policy was changed again due to blood shortages early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, men who have sex with men must wait three months after having sex with a man in order to give blood.
LGBTQ+ rights advocates have called the ban discriminatory and a policy from a bygone era. Advocates have been especially vocal in recent weeks as the county suffers from a severe blood shortage.
Last week, the American Red Cross declared its first-ever national blood crisis.
Currently, several major blood donation organizations — including the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — are working together in an FDA-funded study called ADVANCE: Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility to provide data to determine if eligibility based on an individual's risk could safely replace the time-based deferral system.
The American Red Cross has said there is no data suggesting changing the current policy would substantially increase blood donations, but about 360,000 men would be additional likely donors, ABC News reports. LGBTQ+ rights group GLAAD said the number “could help save the lives of more than a million people."
“We believe blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation and we're committed to achieving this goal,” the American Red Cross said in a statement to the outlet.
In 2020, Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, told ABC News, “The AMA has been a long-term advocate of using a risk-based approach, rather than stigmatizing one group of people. So we believe there should not even be the three-month deferral, but that we should use a risk-based approach.”