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FDA's New Blood Donation Policy A Step In the Right Direction, But Falls Short

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April 2, 2020
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced new guidelines for blood donations that change the current one-year deferral for donations from men who have sex with men (MSM) to a three-month deferral.. While a step in the right direction, the new guidance falls short of what many recognize as the optimal policy for enhancing the safety of the blood supply while ensuring it does not discriminate against gay, bisexual and transgender people—a policy based on the conduct of the potential donor rather than the donor’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Scott Schoettes, Lambda Legal Counsel and HIV Project Director, issued the following statement:

“The FDA change from a 12-month to a 3-month deferral for blood donations from men who have sex with men is another step in the right direction, but Lambda Legal will continue to advocate for a policy based on a person’s actual risk behaviors instead of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The guidance issued today makes clear that the FDA continues to study the possibility of moving to such an individualized risk assessment—one based on a person’s sexual activity and safer sex practices—and Lambda Legal applauds that.

While studying the change to an individualized assessment, the FDA should also continue to consider a shorter deferral period for whichever individuals it considers at higher risk. While a deferral may be necessary to detect newly-acquired blood-borne pathogens like HIV, the deferral period could be comfortably shortened to as little as 45-60 days. 

Lambda Legal will continue to press the FDA to conform the policy to the current science regarding transfusion transmissible infections, including HIV, because these policies should be governed by science not stigma. We are pleased with the further refinement of this discriminatory policy—but it’s still discriminatory. We look forward to further changes in the months ahead.”

Lambda Legal will continue to work towards real reform in our nation’s blood donation policy. Millions of people rely on blood donations for life-threatening medical situations, especially now under a public health emergency, and our screening process should maximize the amount of safe blood available. Screening of blood donors should be based on up-to-date scientific knowledge and experience, not unfounded fear, generalizations and stereotypes.

HIV, United States, HIV