January 14, 2022

Wyden, Merkley Call on FDA to Change Discriminatory Blood Donation Policies to Address National Blood Supply Shortage

The Red Cross declared its first-ever national blood supply shortage this week, posing risk to patients

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley this week joined colleagues to call on federal officials to act on the most up to date science and update its discriminatory blood donor deferral policies for men who have sex with men (MSM). With the Red Cross declaring its first-ever national blood shortage that is posing risks to patient care, with as much as one-quarter of hospital blood needs not currently being met, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  can take the long overdue step to remove the discriminatory practice, increasing the eligible blood donor base and helping address the crisis.

“In light of the nation’s urgent blood supply crisis and to ensure that Americans have access to life-saving blood transfusions during the pandemic, we urge you to swiftly update your current blood donor deferral policies in favor of ones that are grounded in science, based on individualized risk factors, and allow all potentially eligible donors to do so free of stigma. We also request a briefing in the next 30 days on the agency’s plan to update its MSM blood donation policies,” the senators wrote Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock.

In addition to decreasing the eligible donor base and depriving patients of needed blood, the current three month donor deferral blood donation policy for MSM unnecessarily stigmatizes and harms the LGBTQ+ community. The broad consensus among the medical community indicates that the current scientific evidence does not support these discriminatory restrictions, and that a policy focused on individual risk assessment rather than an effective ban on gay and bisexual men would be far more appropriate.

“Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion to survive. But right now, the FDA continues to use archaic, discriminatory criteria to determine an individual’s eligibility to donate blood based solely on their sexual orientation – not their individual risk factors – which is not rooted in science, limits access to crucial blood products, and stigmatizes one segment of society,” said David Stacy, Government Affairs Director of the Human Rights Campaign. "The FDA instead should focus its considerations for blood donor deferrals based on risky behavior by any potential donor, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. This would both best ensure a safe blood supply and maximize the pool of blood donors. We thank Senator Baldwin and her colleagues for their leadership on this issue.”

This letter was led by Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. Along with Wyden and Merkley, the letter is also signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chris Coons, D-Del., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Angus King, I-Maine, Cory Booker, D-N.J., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Alex Padilla, D-Calif.

A full version of this letter is here.