(NEXSTAR) — As the U.S. faces critically 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 gay and bisexual men donating blood. The American Medical Association says the time is now.
“It is time for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do something the AMA and others have urged for years: remove its discriminatory ban that prevents many gay and bisexual men from becoming blood donors,” AMA 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 give blood – they were previously required to be celibate for a year. The rule applies whether or not protection was used during sex.
“The current three-month deferral period singles out and bans blood donors based on their inherent attributes rather than the risk factors they present. For example, a man who has protected sex with another man in the three months prior to a blood donation cannot be a donor, but a man or woman who has unprotected sex with multiple partners of the opposite sex over the same time period remains eligible.”dr. Gerald E. Harmon, AMA president
Gallup’s 2021 update on LGBT identification found 5.6% of U.S. adults identified as LGBT, with more than half (54.6%) identifying as bisexual and 24.5% identifying as gay. MSM blood donor restrictions were first enacted during the AIDS crisis in 1983 when MSM men were barred from making donations across the board. In 2015, the ban was replaced by 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 hurt this policy has caused to many in the LGBTQ+ community” and doesn’t believe sexual orientation-based factors should not preclude anyone from giving blood, “however, as a regulated organization, we cannot unilaterally enact changes concerning MSM deferral policy.” The organization has previously called for the ban to end.
The Red Cross says it’s seen a 10% drop in blood donations since the beginning of the pandemic, in addition to a 62% drop in blood drives held at schools and colleges. The organization is asking all eligible donors to give blood if they can, especially people with the universal donor type O.
If men who have sex with men were allowed to give blood, the total annual blood supply could increase by 2-4%, adding 345,400 to 615,300 pints of blood each year, UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute reports.
Harmon concludes his letter, saying: “The COVID-19 pandemic has cast an uncomfortable spotlight on many longstanding and too-often discriminatory policies that exist within our health system—and placed a new responsibility on all of us to work quickly to correct them.”