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Letter: 20 Attorneys General Want Rules On Gay Men Blood Donors Eased

Attorneys general from 20 states sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Wednesday calling on the agency to further ease rules on gay and bisexual men donating blood.

"The discriminatory restrictions against blood donations by healthy gay and bisexual Americans have persisted for far too long," they write.

Those restrictions began in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. In 1983, the FDA banned gay and bisexual men from ever being eligible to donate blood to protect people receiving blood transfusions from the possibility of getting infected with HIV.

In 2015, that lifetime ban was replaced by a waiting period — men who have sex with men could donate blood if they had not had sex in the last twelve months.

With the nation's blood supply in shortage due to the social distancing measures in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, that deferral period was just shortened to three months.

But the attorneys general — all Democrats, from California, Michigan, Virginia and nine other states — argue that the shorter wait doesn't go far enough. Targeting gay and bisexual men is discriminatory, they say. Instead, blood donors should be screened based on risky behavior, as it is in other countries.

"The revised guidance still precludes many LGBTQ Americans from fully contributing to the blood shortages while still requiring a waiting period for healthy individuals," they write.

They cite a 2014 analysis from the Williams Institute at UCLA estimating that completely lifting the ban on gay men would produce 300,000 pints of blood annually, which could save a million lives.

Another problem they cite: The new three-month waiting period prevents gay and bisexual men who have recovered from COVID-19 from donating plasma to treat others who are infected with the coronavirus. Preliminary studies suggest the treatment can improve recovery from COVID-19.

"America is in the midst of a public health crisis," Dr. Jack Turban wrote in Voxlast week. "Old homophobic policies are making it worse: leaving trauma victims without donor blood and withholding plasma donations that could potentially save people dying from the coronavirus."

In the letter to HHS, the attorneys general ask the FDA to "immediately clarify" that gay and bisexual men who have COVID-19 antibodies can donate plasma.

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Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.
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