Following urgent appeals for blood donations in the tragic wake of the Orlando shooting, democrats are calling on the FDA to repeal a decades old policy that prevents gay and bisexual men from contributing at blood banks.
On Sunday an armed gunman entered a gay club in Orlando, Florida and started spraying bullets. The most recent reports have the number of confirmed dead at 49. There are a further 53 wounded, with some in critical condition.
It is the most deadly mass shooting in American history. As health workers look to help those injured, urgent calls for blood were made.
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Since 1983 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have banned gay and bisexual men from donating blood. The year is significant as this was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the US and moves were made to control its spreading.
The original ban prevented any members of the gay community from donating for the rest of their lives. This was revised last year to only apply to men who had same-sex sexual relations within the previous 12 months.
Democratic calls to review the policy
A number of representatives from the democratic party are now looking for changes to this legislation, especially in the wake of the atrocity in Orlando. As members of the gay community were keen to assist following the shooting, and found themselves unable to do so.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus explained to the Huffington Post, “The fact that loved ones, and friends, and spouses of victims were unable to donate blood showed the moral bankruptcy of the ban.”
He argued that rather than a catch-all ban, a more “behavior-based criteria’ should be used, showing the idiosyncrasies of the rule, “It’s ridiculous that a straight person can have unprotected sex with multiple partners and donate, but a monogamous gay or bisexual man cannot,” adding that he felt the ban was “rooted in bigoted policies.”
A letter was composed by various lawmakers in Congress that they plan to send to Robert Califf, the commissioner of the FDA. The letter calls for a rapid end to the ban and “promote a less discriminatory system.”
“Given the target, nature and timing of this particular attack, the LGBT community is especially eager to contribute to the response effort,” the letter stated, “we are concerned that the 12-month deferral policy, which suggests that the sexual relationships of [gay and bisexual] men and transgender women inherently pose a risk of HIV transmission, furthers a stigma that we have persistently fought to eliminate.”
The letter continued, “Tragedies like the one we witnessed in the early morning hours on Sunday show how crucial it is for FDA to develop better blood donor policies that are based on science and on individual risk factors; that don’t unfairly single out one group of individuals; and that allow all healthy Americans to donate.”
The FDA has yet to comment. When the 12-month amendment (which also applies to a woman who has had sex with a man who has had sex with another man) was made last year they explained that the policy was based on what their scientists were advising. Corey Dubin, a member of the committee said in 2014, “There’s too many questions in science that aren’t answerable,” he continued, “with the science so far, it’s a leap of faith.”
Don’t expect this issue to go away anytime soon.