Biden 'Committed to' Fact-Based - Not Stigma-Based - Blood Donation Policy

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday January 19, 2022

The White House expressed a commitment to "science, not fiction or stigma" as a basis for determining blood donor eligibility in comments made to ABC News.

Referencing the current FDA ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men unless they are celibate for a minimum of three months, a unidentified "White House official" told ABC News via a statement, "The legacy of bans on blood donation continues to be painful, especially for LGBTQI+ communities."

That ban, ABC News noted, is a blanket policy that does not take into consideration a prospective donor's marital status, or whether they might be in an exclusive long-term relationship.

No such proscriptions are in place for heterosexual men.

The official seemed to indicate a willingness on the part of the Biden administration to revisit the FDA's donor requirements.

"The President is committed to ensuring that this policy is based on science, not fiction or stigma," the official said, going on to note that "While there are no new decisions to announce at the moment, the FDA is currently supporting the 'ADVANCE' study, a scientific study to develop relevant scientific evidence and inform any potential policy changes."

The study in question "will test the reliability of a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk of HIV transmission" that has been proposed as a replacement for the FDA's blanket policy, political news site The Hill detailed.

"If the study is successful, the new questionnaire could replace the FDA's deferral requirement," The Hill noted, meaning that a compilation of individual risk factors, rather than assumptions based broadly on sexual orientation, will determine a donor's eligibility.

The study will include "2,000 gay or bisexual men in eight cities across the U.S.," The Hill said.

Democratic lawmakers have, in the past, urged the FDA to reconsider its blanket requirements with respect to MSM, or men who have sex with men. Last week, The Hill noted, several Democratic lawmakers repeated that request in response to the nation's blood shortage.

The American Red Cross posted a Jan. 12 Instagram message in which it said that the U.S. is facing "a national blood crisis" and "the worst blood shortage in a decade."

That post indicated what ABC News characterized as the American Red Cross' "first-ever national blood crisis... as supplies at hospitals and blood banks become dangerously low."

The blanket requirement extends as far as excluding "gay and bisexual COVID-19 survivors who wish to donate convalescent plasma, rich with antibodies, for research," ABC News added.

ABC News recounted a timeline for the FDA's donor restrictions, which emerged from the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

"In 1983, the FDA implemented a lifetime ban on blood donations from all men who had sex with men after 1977," the account related. That ban changed to a yearlong deferral period — that is to say, period of celibacy — in 2015. The FDA shortened the deferral period to the current three months in April, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD posted its own response to the American Red Cross' Instagram message, stating: "It's time to end the ban once and for all. It's discriminatory, and dangerous for all Americans in a worsening crisis."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.