Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring joined 19 other state Attorneys General in asking the US Department Of Health to ease restrictions on LGBTQ blood donation.
Discriminatory policies dating back to the early days of the AIDS crisis continue to place restrictions on the ability of gay men and other LGBTQ people to donate blood. At the time of a massive worldwide health crisis, this policy seems even more wrongheaded than usual, and last week Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring joined with 19 other state Attorneys General from around the US in signing onto a letter condemning the policy.
The letter was sent to the US Department of Heath And Human Services, in hopes that the department would replace a discriminatory policy based on identity with one based on risky behavior. It was drafted in response to a request for public comment on the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act, and was signed by 20 Attorneys General, including those from California, New York, Illinois, and Washington DC, all of whom are Democrats.
“The discriminatory restrictions against blood donations by healthy gay and bisexual Americans have persisted for far too long,” the letter states. Indeed, restrictions against donations by MSMs — men who have sex with men (a category that has at times been defined as including all transgender people, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation) — date back to 1983, when a lifetime ban on blood donations from MSMs was established in response to the AIDS crisis and a number of high profile cases in which children were diagnosed with AIDS after receiving blood transfusions.
In 2015, the ban was eased, and the FDA established a waiting period of 12 months, meaning that MSMs could now donate blood if it had been at least a year since they last had sex with another man. Earlier this month, the Food And Drug Administration lowered that waiting period to three months. However, the Attorneys General still feel that this change is insufficient to address the discriminatory nature of the US policy around LGBTQ blood donation.
“While this reform takes a step toward increasing blood donations made by healthy bisexual and gay men in a time when the nation’s supply of blood and blood products is at risk of collapse due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it does not go far enough,” the letter states, in reference to the lowering of the waiting period to three months. “The steps you have taken acknowledge current rules are informed more strongly by bias than science.”
Citing a 2014 study by the Williams Institute, the letter states that “lifting the blood donation ban for MSM completely, as compared to a twelve month ‘deferral period’ from last MSM sexual contact, would produce over 2 million additional each eligible blood donors, including nearly 175,000 likely blood donors, and would produce nearly 300,000 pints of additional donated blood annually.”
The letter goes on to mention that the current policy excludes monogamous married couples from donation, even in cases where one partner would be donating blood to the other. “The survival of such a union — the survival of its members — should not depend on the manner in which they consummate their love,” the letter states. “The FDA should immediately clarify that the new three month MSM deferral period announced does not bar MSM from donating convalescent plasma to their loved ones.”
The letter also mentions Constitutional provisions for equal protection under law, and states that the current blood donation policy may violate both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Ultimately, it condemns the current policy as intrinsically discriminatory. “Any sex-based deferral period targets MSM for a perceived and faulty belief that all MSM engaged in risky behavior that could put blood donations at risk,” the letter states. It calls for the FDA to “look at risk behavior and not sex for determining who should donate blood,” and to “replace a time-based deferral with a risk-based framework.”
“Our country’s blood supply is dangerously low right now during a public health crisis when it is more critical than ever,” Attorney General Herring said in a statement. “Easing these restrictions will not only help boost the national blood supply but it will also begin the long overdue process of changing this outdated policy towards non-gender-based risk assessment restrictions on blood donations.”