(NEXSTAR) – As the United States faces extremely low blood supplies – and the Red Cross declares its first national blood crisis – many are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to end federal restrictions for homosexual and bisexual men who donate blood. The American Medical Association says the time has come.
“It is time for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do something the AMA and others have been asking for years: remove its discriminatory ban that prevents many gay and bisexual men from becoming blood donors,” said WADA President Dr. Gerald E. Harmon. said in a letter Wednesday.
Current policy requires men who have sex with men (MSM) to abstain from sexual activity for at least three months before they can donate blood – they previously had to be celibate for a year. The rule applies whether or not protection was used during sex.
“The current three-month debarment period singles out and bars blood donors based on their inherent attributes rather than the risk factors they exhibit. For example, a man who has had safe sex with another man in the three months preceding a blood donation cannot be a donor, but a man or woman who has had unprotected sex with multiple partners of the opposite sex during the same period remains eligible.”
dr. Gerald E. Harmon, WADA President
Gallup’s 2021 LGBT Identification Update found that 5.6% of American adults identify as LGBT, with more than half (54.6%) identifying as bisexual and 24.5% s identifying as gay. Restrictions on MSM blood donors were first enacted during the AIDS crisis in 1983, when MSM men were banned from donating at all levels. In 2015, the ban was replaced with a one-year abstinence requirement – in the early days of COVID-19, the requirement was shortened to 90 days.
The Red Cross says it “recognizes the harm this policy has caused to many members of the LGBTQ+ community ‘and does not believe that factors related to sexual orientation should not prevent anyone from donating blood,'” however, as a regulated organization, we cannot unilaterally enact changes to the MSM deferral policy.The organization has previously called for an end to the ban.
The Red Cross claims to have seen a 10% drop in blood donations since the start of the pandemic, in addition to a 62% drop in blood drives organized in schools and colleges. The organization asks all eligible donors to donate blood if they can, especially people with universal donor type O.
If men who have sex with men were allowed to donate blood, the total annual blood supply could increase by 2% to 4%, adding 345,400 to 615,300 pints of blood each year, reports the Williams Institute of UCLA School of Law.
Harmon concludes his letter by saying, “The COVID-19 pandemic has cast an uncomfortable spotlight on many long-standing and all-too-often discriminatory policies that exist within our healthcare system – and imposed a new responsibility on all of us to work quickly to correct them. ”