July 27, 2016 - Wednesday
FDA Fights Blood Ban in Vein
Less than a year ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did away with an important public health measure to protect the safety of our blood supply -- namely, the lifetime deferral of men who have had sex with men (MSM) as blood donors. This longstanding policy was a sensible precaution based on the extraordinarily high rates of HIV infection among MSM. The FDA replaced it with a deferral only of men who had sex with men in the past year.
Now, even that precaution is under attack -- and the FDA has invited comments on the possibility of doing away with the deferral of MSM as blood donors altogether, and replacing the question about sexual partners with ones about specific high-risk behaviors.
Why the sudden change? It is being driven by an emotional response to the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in June. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, people were told that one practical thing they could do to help the (surviving) victims was to donate blood -- whereupon some men who engage in homosexual relationships were reminded that they were still rejected as donors. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado who identifies as gay, has led the charge to do away with the deferral altogether.
Note that this has nothing to do with any shortage of blood. News coverage from the day of the shooting shows that while a story went out late that morning asking for blood donations, within hours medical facilities were saying they had enough and could not handle any more donors.
As recently as 2009, the FDA informed the public that: "Men who have had sex with men since 1977 have an HIV prevalence . . . 60 times higher than the general population, 800 times higher than first time blood donors and 8000 times higher than repeat blood donors." These risks are enough to justify the previous lifetime deferral; they show it would be absurd to abolish the deferral period altogether. The FDA claims its decisions will be based on "scientific information" and declares that "the process must be data-driven." If they mean it, they should reject the current calls to ignore the science in the name of political correctness.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC Action senior writers.