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U.S. senators call on FDA to relax blood donation rules for gay, bi men

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A group of 20 U.S. senators, including U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), have called on the Food and Drug Administration to relax its rules on blood donation for gay and bisexual men.

The demand comes after the American Red Cross declared a national blood shortage. The organization said the shortage, especially of Type O, is the worst in a decade. The shortage is due to a decline in donations and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Winter weather across the country and the recent surge of COVID-19 cases are compounding the already-dire situation facing the blood supply,” said Dr. Baia Lasky, medical director for the Red Cross. “Please, if you are eligible, make an appointment to give blood or platelets in the days and weeks ahead to ensure no patient is forced to wait for critical care.”

The FDA currently requires men who have sex with men to be celibate for three months before donating blood. The requirement was dropped from a full year at the start of the COVID pandemic. However, men in heterosexual relationships have no such restriction.

The letter, written by U.S. Sen. Tammie Baldwin (D-Wisc.), states the restriction puts people at risk and discriminates against LGBTQ people.

“In light of the nation’s urgent blood supply crisis and to ensure that Americans have access to life-saving blood transfusions during the pandemic, we urge you to swiftly update your current blood donor deferral policies in favor of ones that are grounded in science, based on individualized risk factors, and allow all potentially eligible donors to do so free of stigma. We also request a briefing in the next 30 days on the agency’s plan to update its MSM blood donation policies,” the letter states.

 “Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion to survive. But right now, the FDA continues to use archaic, discriminatory criteria to determine an individual’s eligibility to donate blood based solely on their sexual orientation – not their individual risk factors – which is not rooted in science, limits access to crucial blood products, and stigmatizes one segment of society,” said David Stacy, government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign. “The FDA instead should focus its considerations for blood donor deferrals based on risky behavior by any potential donor, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. This would both best ensure a safe blood supply and maximize the pool of blood donors.”

A full version of the letter is available here.

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