EQCA-sponsored Blood Ban Resolution Clears California Senate

The California Senate Thursday day passed a bipartisan resolution by California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) calling for an end to federal blood donation policies that discriminate against men who have sex with men (MSM). Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 26 calls upon President Barack Obama to compel the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to repeal current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blood donor policies that discriminate against LGBT people and instead direct the agency to develop science-based policies that utilize individual behavioral risk. SJR 26 is sponsored by Equality California.

SJR 26 urges the President to endorse blood donation eligibility policies based on modern understanding of HIV and that assess behavioral risk rather than using blanket discrimination based on sexual orientation and outdated assumptions and fears. It requests that President Obama direct the FDA to develop policies in alignment with that approach.

Despite modern technology that makes HIV detection easily achievable and extremely accurate, the FDA currently prohibits a man from donating blood if he has had sex with another man anytime in the last 12 months. The American Public Health Association has stated that the FDA has provided no scientific rationale to justify the 12-month deferral policy. Currently medical technology can identify within seven to 10 days with 99.9 percent accuracy whether or not a blood sample is HIV-positive. The chance of a blood test being inaccurate within the 10-day window is approximately one in 2,000,000.

“When so many otherwise eligible gay and bisexual men who wanted to donate blood after the recent tragedy in Orlando were turned away, the need to reform the FDA’s outdated policy on blood donation once again became painfully clear,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “A gay man in a monogamous relationship who has repeatedly tested negative for HIV is prohibited from giving blood, while non-LGBT men who engage in high risk behaviors are allowed to donate. We urge the FDA to develop risk-based blood donation policies based on modern science and individual behavior instead of stereotypes, stigma, and fear.”

In 2014, Equality California launched its “Every Drop Counts” initiative which aims to bring an end to the FDA’s discriminatory ban. As part of the initiative, Equality California submitted comments to the FDA about how current policies are not necessary to protect public health and stigmatize LGBT people. Equality California also has retained a lobbying team which is advocating with federal lawmakers and FDA officials to revise the arbitrary and outdated policies that discriminate against LGBT people.

“The basis of our current standards for determining blood-donor suitability was developed decades ago at a time when our knowledge of HIV and our detection methods were limited,” said Senator De León. “Since then, time and science have marched on and so must our policies.”

“America is facing a critical blood supply shortage. Many healthy men want to donate blood, yet are being denied due to an outdated, discriminatory policy. This is wrong,” said Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes. “No healthy person should be turned away when they want to help save people’s lives. Republicans and Democrats stand together in urging Washington to develop new blood donation policies that are based on sound science, not fear.”

In December, 2015, the FDA revised its regulations to allow a man who has had sex with another man to donate blood only if he has not been sexually active for the past 12 months. Despite this policy change from the even more draconian lifetime ban, the policy discriminates against essentially sexually active gay and bisexual men who pose no risk to the blood supply. Other countries, including Italy, have implemented individual risk assessment criteria and research shows no increase in HIV infection. The FDA is in the process of again reevaluating and considering updating its blood donor deferral policies from the existing one year time-based deferrals to alternate deferral options, such as the use of individual risk assessments.

According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, lifting the federal lifetime deferral policy on blood donation by gay and bisexual men could generate some 615,000 additional pints of blood annually nationwide, and an additional 75,000 donated pints in California.

Other resolution supporters include APLA Health, Project Inform and Access Support Network of San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties. The resolution will be heard in the Assembly prior to the conclusion of legislative session in August.