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male blood donors who identify as gay and bisexual has nothing to do with science or medicine and everything to do with outdated stigmas against the LGBTQ community," a spokesperson for Beto O'Rourke's campaign told The Independent, which received similar responses from the campaigns of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"Our blood screening policies must be based on 21st century medical evidence, not outdated biases about which populations carry more risk of HIV transmission.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.

For second time ever a patient has been cured of HIV, scientists report

The promising news comes 12 years after the "Berlin patient" became the world's first person to be cured of the deadly virus.

HIV infected cell (Getty Images/luismmolina)
  • The New York Times reports that a team of scientists plan to announce tomorrow that a patient in London has been effectively cured of HIV.
  • The cure reportedly was the result of a bone-marrow transplant that came with a genetic mutation that naturally blocks HIV from spreading throughout the body.
  • This approach isn't quite practical to implement on a large scale, but the knowledge gained from it will likely help scientists develop more scalable approaches.
Keep reading Show less

New drug capsule may allow weekly HIV treatment

This new pill could make it easier for people to stick to the treatment. 

Indian social activists and children release ribbons and balloons during an event to mark World AIDS Day in Kolkata on December 1, 2014. (Photo credit: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Replacing daily pills with a weekly regimen could help patients stick to their dosing schedule.

Keep reading Show less

Norway Voted to Decriminalize All Drugs. Should America Follow Suit?

Norway’s decision to push drug felons through treatment is a huge step forward.

Keep reading Show less

How the LGBTQ Community Taught America to Have More Compassion

From the depth of the AIDS crisis, a new community discovered itself and defeated victimhood.

When the AIDS pandemic hit in 1981, the LGBTQ community was turned upside down. American actress Judith Light recalls the horrifying wave of death that swept through the community—but from that devastation, she witnessed a new force emerge. Pushed to be self-reliant in the absence of outside help, the LGBTQ community banded together and "became this magnificent example to the world of how to be of service," Light says. Elizabeth Taylor appealed to Congress for funding to fight the AIDS crisis, Larry Kramer founded the direct action advocacy group ACT UP to bring about legislation and medical research, and artists told the powerful stories of themselves and the ones they loved to help people understand why compassion was warranted. "I began to see that we were, by the example of the LGBQ community, we were one human family," says Light. Since then the LGBTQ community has not stopped being a force for progress and compassion, but there is much further to go, she says. Trans people are currently on the frontline of a struggle for public compassion and acceptance, and Light—who stars in Amazon’s comedy-drama series Transparent—naturally has much to say about defeating bigotry, serving the community, and the immense courage of the trans people who come out to live authentically.