A group of Democratic senators sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday urging them to lift restrictions that prevent gay and bisexual men from donating blood given the shortcomings caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders joined 16 of his Democrat colleagues including Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in signing the letter, addressed to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn.
“We must take every step possible to secure our nation’s blood supply at this critical time,” the senators wrote. “And to do that, we need to move from an old-fashioned donation and stigmatization policy to a scientifically sound policy, based on individual risks, and including all potential healthy blood donors.”
Current regulations prohibit blood donation from men who have sex with men (MSM) and have been sexually active in one year. A lifetime ban was lifted in 2015, after it was imposed in 1983 in response to the AIDS epidemic.
A number of countries including the United Kingdom and Canada have shortened the MSM suspension period to three months, while others have eliminated the restriction completely.
The pandemic has placed great pressure on blood donors, with many blood donors being canceled and potential donors staying at home because of social distance guidelines. The senators argued that lifting restrictions was important because accidents and conditions requiring blood transfusions would continue during the pandemic.
“For many people, including victims of accidents and trauma, organ transplant recipients and cancer patients, blood transfusions remain a necessary component of care,” the senators wrote. “Unfortunately, our nation’s blood supply is severely hampered due to the decline in healthy donations.”
Proponents to remove the suspension for a year now say it is based on an outdated idea rather than current science, arguing that blood donor screening must be based on a case-by-case risk and relying on strict blood screening measures that are already in place.
“While many government health officials encourage every healthy individual to consider donating blood, the FDA continues to enforce discriminatory donor suspension policies that effectively ban many healthy gay and bisexual men from doing so,” the senators wrote.
The shortage has inspired another call to lift the restrictions, with the LGBTQ GLAAD advocacy group launching a petition last week to stop the ban, which they called “unreasonable.” The petition had obtained more than 9,000 signatures on Thursday night.
Newsweek contacted the FDA to comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.
The FDA currently prohibits blood donation from any man who has sex with another man in one year.