Calls for FDA to drop rule on blood donations by gay people amid blood shortage

As the State of California, and the nation, continue to face a dire blood shortage, there are new calls on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to end restrictions on blood donations by gay men. Among those involved in the renewed effort, health experts, LGBTQ organizations, and state leaders.

California Insurance Commissioner, Ricardo Lara, recently penned a letter to the heads of the FDA and Department of Health and Human Services, asking them to drop the rule, banning gay or bisexual men who’ve had sex with other men in the last three months, from donating blood.

"It’s something that needs to change." said Ricardo Lara, California Insurance Commissioner. "It’s simply just a discriminatory act that no longer withstands the test of time and that science tells us does nothing to keep our blood supply safe."

The restriction on blood donations by gay men started out as a lifetime ban at the height of aids epidemic in 1983, a policy that was eventually loosened over the years.

"This is a very antiquated rule to say that people who are at risk of HIV can’t give blood. We absolutely know how to screen blood, so I’m hoping that the FDA will listen," said infectious disease expert, Dr. Monica Gandhi of UCSF Health. "To be honest I think it’s completely discriminatory, to make the assumption that anyone who is gay is fundamentally at risk for HIV at any moment, and asked to prove that they're celibate, is really ridiculous actually."  

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation is also backing Lara’s call for the FDA to drop its rule.

"It literally is a homophobic relic of the past," said Russell Roybal of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. "It sends the message that the blood of queer people is dangerous."

Roybal, began donating blood at age 17, after signing up at his high school, but says he was forced to stop.  

"I had to stop because I had to make a choice if I was going to tell the truth about who I was, or be able to continue to give blood, and it was an unfair choice now, and it continues to be an unfair choice for gay, bisexual, and queer men to have to make to help their communities," said Roybal. "Right now there is a huge blood shortage in California."

The American Red Cross says the blood shortage is among the worst that the organization has seen.  

SEE ALSO: American Red Cross is seeing 'lowest blood supply' in a decade

"We are absolutely facing a crisis. We want to make sure that we always have a 3 to 5 day supply of blood on hand, and right now, we just don’t," said Justin Miller of the American Red Cross.

In a statement, the Red Cross added, in part, "donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon on sexual orientation."  

Meantime, Commissioner Lara says he's left wondering why the FDA isn't listening.

"Research shows that approximately 300 thousand more people would donate if this rule was not in place, and roughly enough to save the lives of over one million people," said Lara.

KTVU did reach out to the FDA, and at the time of broadcast, had not heard back.