LGBTQ+ community, supporters call FDA policy on donating blood 'discriminatory' amid shortageJan 26, 2022
FERNDALE, Mich. (WXYZ) — As hospitals try to manage dangerously low levels of blood products on their shelves, the Food and Drug Administration's policy on who is not eligible to donate blood is being called "discriminatory" and "dangerous" by members and supporters of LGBTQ community.
Physicians across the country have also gone on record to say that a risk-based approach should be used instead of one that stigmatizes one group of people.
"We need the blood. This is something that may or may not have made sense 30 years ago, but certainly does not make sense now," said Dr. Gretchen Newman who specializes in infectious diseases at Detroit Receiving Hospital.
It was the HIV and AIDS crisis in the 1980s that led to the FDA's initial blood donation ban for men who had sex with other men (MSM). That ban was for a lifetime.
But in 2015, the FDA began to allow MSM to donate blood if it had been at least a year since the male donor had sex with another man. It was called a yearlong deferral.
Now, despite modern HIV testing and amid a national blood shortage, the three-month ban remains in place."From just a pure blood supply standpoint, it doesn't make sense anymore," Newman said.
Kyle Taylor said he would donate his blood as often as he could to help others, but because he's gay, he's restricted.
Taylor is the manager of Development and Community Relations for Affirmations LGBTQ+ Community Center in Ferndale.
"Why are we still excluding certain groups when more blood can be donated, especially during times of blood shortages," Taylor said. "It's definitely archaic and it's definitely discriminatory."
GLAAD wrote, "3 Months is still discrimination" in a post on their Instagram page.
Blood donation organizations like the American Red Cross and Versiti said they are advocating for change at the federal level that would make blood donations more accessible to LGBTQ communities.
Blood donation should "not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation," the Red Cross said in a statement.
The FDA said developing the scientific information needed to "further change blood donor policies does take time and effort," a spokesperson said in a statement. "The FDA has made forward progress in this regard and has been actively engaged in reexamining the issue of blood donor deferral for men who have sex with men (MSM), taking into account the current body of scientific information, and we are considering the possibility of pursuing alternative strategies that maintain blood safety."
Newman points out the reality that it's not just men who have sex with men who are at risk.
"All of us who have sex are at risk of acquiring HIV," she said. "And that window period is the same regardless of how you acquire HIV or when you acquire HIV. That period of very few days is the same for everybody."