June 29, 2016
2 min read

Lawmakers urge FDA to end celibacy policy for gay, bisexual blood donors

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More than 130 members of Congress are urging the FDA to remove the requirement that gay and bisexual men be celibate for 1 year before they are allowed to donate blood.

Their pleas come in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed and more than 50 were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in United States history.

In response to the attack on the LGBT nightclub, thousands of would-be healthy donors were turned away from Orlando blood banks because of the policy, according to Courtney Hagen, MPP, of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

“Their community was under attack, but they were unable to do even the simplest of acts to help it heal,” Hagen said during a teleconference call with reporters on Tuesday.

In December, the FDA lifted its lifetime ban on gay men donating blood, but instituted the 1-year celibacy requirement based on what it said was the most current scientific evidence to reduce the risk for HIV transmission.

Critics, citing studies that say blood donations are thoroughly tested, contend that there is no scientific rationale to justify the policy.

“The FDA simply needs to make screening based on behavior and science, not orientation,” Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., the first openly gay parent in Congress, said during the teleconference call. “The gender of one’s partner has nothing to do with whether one is engaged in risky behavior.”

Robert M. Califf

In letters to FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, MD, lawmakers acknowledged that lifting the lifetime ban was an important step, but called the celibacy requirement “a de facto lifetime ban for many healthy gay and bisexual men.”

“We can’t say that we have first-class citizens and second-class citizens, we can’t say some people can give blood and other people can’t be based upon their sexual orientation,” Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., said during the call.

The FDA has said its policy is not based on sexual orientation, but behavior, and that male-to-male sexual contact is associated with a 62-fold increased risk for contracting HIV, whereas the risk was 2.3-fold for patients with a history of multiple sexual partners in the last year.

Tara Goodin, an FDA spokeswoman, told Infectious Disease News that the government agency will continue to review its policies about donating blood “to ensure they reflect the most up-to-date scientific knowledge,” but any further changes could take time.

“This process must be data driven,” Goodin said, “so the time frame for future changes is not something we can predict.” – by Gerard Gallagher

Reference: FDA. Revised recommendations for reducing the risk of human immunodeficiency virus transmission by blood and blood products — Guidance for industry. 2015. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/BiologicsBloodVaccines/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/Guidances/Blood/UCM446580.pdf. Accessed June 28, 2016.

Disclosures: Goodin is a spokeswoman for the FDA. Hagen is a lobbyist for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.