2020 Democratic presidential candidates want to end ban on gay blood donors

FDA guidelines say men can't donate blood if they've had sex with another man in the past 12 months.

Photo credit: Kevin Grieve on Unsplash
  • At least seven 2020 Democratic presidential campaigns have called for an end to the FDA's guidelines, as reported by The Independent.
  • It would be the first year that the issue has been a focus of presidential candidates.
  • The American Public Health Association said the FDA's ban isn't based on science.

In 1983, as the HIV and AIDS was ramping up in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration banned blood donations from men who'd ever had sex with other men. The policy remains active, though in 2015 the FDA narrowed its ban to apply only to men who've had sex with another man in the past year.

Soon, the ban could be lifted altogether.

A growing number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are calling to end the long-standing policy, which gay-rights advocacy groups say promotes homophobia and is no longer necessary, thanks to modern disease-screening techniques. Most harmfully, the ban could be preventing healthy blood from reaching patients who need it, when blood shortages are already alarmingly common.

"The one-year deferral period for male blood donors who identify as gay and bisexual has nothing to do with science or medicine and everything to do with outdated stigmas against the LGBTQ community," a spokesperson for Beto O'Rourke's campaign told The Independent, which received similar responses from the campaigns of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Delaney, and Marianne Williamson.

"Our blood screening policies must be based on 21st century medical evidence, not outdated biases about which populations carry more risk of HIV transmission. These policies serve no one and will only limit access to life-saving blood donations."

The ban hasn't been a key issue in past elections, said William McColl, director of health policy with the advocacy group AIDs United.

"I'm pleased to hear that they're talking about it. I think it shows that we've come a really long way in a short period of time," McColl told The Independent. "This discussion wasn't happening even 10 years ago, for sure."

House Democrats tried to lift the FDA's current policy in 2016, but the legislation never passed.

​Is the FDA's current policy based on science?

Not really, according to Georges C. Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association.

"[The FDA's 12-month policy on gay donors] continues to prevent low-risk individuals from contributing to our blood supply and maintains discriminatory practices based on outdated stereotypes," he wrote in comments submitted to the FDA in 2015. "Instead, we strongly urge FDA to issue guidance that is grounded in science to ensure a safe and robust blood supply."

Benjamin noted that current screening technology can identify HIV in blood donations within 11 days, and that the odds of an infected sample making it past screening is about 1 in 3.1 million. The Williams Institute, a think-tank at UCLA School of Law, estimates that eliminating the ban would add 615,300 pints to the national blood supply each year, an increase of about 4 percent.

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