Chicago Attorney General Kwame Raoul, as part of a coalition of 22 attorneys general, issued a letter to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) today in support of a proposal that would end an outdated blood donation policy that currently bars many gay and bisexual men from donating blood and plasma.
Current policy recommends barring gay and bisexual men from donating blood within three months of their most recent sexual contact, regardless of whether they engaged in high-risk behavior. In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA introduced new proposed guidance that would abandon the current discriminatory approach and instead use a risk-based analysis for all donors, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
"I applaud this long-overdue reform that will help end stigmatization of the LGBTQ+ community while also shoring up blood supply levels across the country," Raoul said. "I will continue to stand with colleagues across the country in supporting the rights of all in the LGBTQ+ community."
In their comment letter, Raoul and the coalition express support for the new federal policy, which would both help increase the available blood supply and reduce the stigmatizing harms of the current approach by applying a risk-based model and ending the wrongful stigmatization of LGBTQ+ individuals.
According to the American Red Cross, someone in the U.S. needs blood and or platelets every two seconds. Blood transfusions and blood products are needed for major surgeries, to treat diseases such as sickle cell anemia and some cancers, and to treat victims injured by accidents, violence or natural disasters. In the last few years, as the COVID-19 crisis reduced the number of community events and blood drives, blood donations dropped significantly. In January 2022, the Red Cross declared its first-ever national blood crisis, announcing its worst blood shortage in over a decade.
The danger to the lives of patients during this crisis could have been significantly reduced if the donation restrictions on the LGBTQ+ community were lifted. Data from the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute indicates that lifting restrictions completely, as compared to a 12-month waiting period, would produce nearly 300,000 pints of additional donated blood annually and could help save the lives of more than a million people.
If the new proposed recommendations become final, blood banks in the U.S. would be urged to discard the previous policy and instead ask all donors, regardless of their actual or perceived gender or sexual orientation, if they have had sex with a new partner or more than one partner in the last three months. Based on their answers, they would either be allowed to donate blood or asked to wait for three months.
Joining Raoul in filing the comment letter are the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.