Congress Challenges FDA Blood Donor Deferral Policy

In the wake of the tragic Pulse nightclub shooting at Orlando in June 2016, members of Congress have widely criticized the one-year blood donor deferral policy on men who have sex with men (MSM). Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted the lifetime ban on MSM from donating blood and updated the policy to a one-year deferral, which allows men who have not had sex with another man within the previous year to donate blood. Previous to this change, any man who had ever had sex with another man could not donate blood. This lifetime ban was created during the peak of the AIDS epidemic in an attempt to protect the blood supply.

While the FDA justifies its updated one-year deferral policy, many LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers have called the policy discriminatory against MSM and unjustified by science. The recent events in Orlando only further illustrated the twisted irony of MSM being unable to donate blood despite the dire need for blood donations following the violent shooting at a gay nightclub.

Members of the House and Senate have signed on to "Dear Colleague" letters to the FDA Commissioner Robert Califf asking him to lift the one-year deferral policy. The House bipartisan letter has been signed by over 115 members and the Senate bipartisan letter has been signed by over twenty members.

Further, Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL-5) wrote an article published by CNN emphasizing the lack of scientific evidence supporting the one-year deferral policy and urging a policy change that reflects the many advancements which have been made in blood screening technology. Representative Quigley is the vice-chairman of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and a ranking Democrat of the Emerging Threats Subcommittee of the House Intelligence Committee.

AIDS United will continue to advocate for the removal of this discriminatory blood donor deferral policy and applauds Representative Quigley for his efforts to raise awareness of this important issue.