Blood Ban Resolution Clears California Legislature

The California Legislature Wednesday 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.

“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  Many healthy men want to donate blood, yet are being denied due to an outdated, discriminatory policy.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.”

Modern techniques make HIV detection easily achievable and extremely accurate. However, 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.

The FDA implemented the one-year ban last year, a change from an even more draconian lifetime ban. The policy continues to discriminate against 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.

“While we’re encouraged that the FDA appears willing to reevaluate its policies, current regulations continue to bar gay and bisexual men from donating unless they are essentially celibate,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “So a gay man in a monogamous relationship who knows that he is HIV negative cannot give blood – but non-LGBT men who engage in high-risk behavior with multiple sexual partners can. That’s not just discriminatory; it’s bad public health policy.”

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.

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.

SJR 26 is now adopted.