A recent decision by Canada to remove all remaining restrictions on gay men who donate blood has reignited calls for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do the same.
US Congresswoman Val Demings, in a statement to The Independent on Wednesday, she said she welcomed Canada’s action and that it was time for the FDA to follow “modern science” on gay men donating blood.
“Glad to see Canada following the modern science and expanding their pool of eligible donors,” said the Democrat of the decision by Health Canada.
“This is a step towards equality and the United States should take similar steps to do away with antiquated discriminatory practices and save lives.”
Congressman Mark Takano, who is openly gay and the first non-white LGBT+ member of the House, added that Canada’s decision was a step in the right direction.
“I applaud the recent decision by Canadian health officials to remove a ban on blood donations from gay men, and I hope that here in the United States, we can soon follow suit,” he told The Independent.
“I have regularly spoken out against the issue of using sexual orientation and gender identity as a means of restricting otherwise qualified blood donations,” the California Democrat continued.
“The restrictions placed on gay and bisexual men are homophobic, and they hinder our progress. In our pursuit of equality, we must ensure the LGBTQ+ community has the same opportunity to contribute as their fellow citizens.”
Many restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood have remained in place long after AIDs was a major concern in both the US and Canada, which until recently had imposed life-long bans on LGBT+ men donating blood.
Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday last week, Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau described the 90-day wait for gay men donating blood as “discriminatory and wrong”.
He added that the ban should have ended 10 to 15 years ago, but that previous Canadian governments had not carried out research into the safety of removing the restrictions on gay and bisexual men.
By screening blood donors with questions about their sexual activity, rather than by sexual orientation, Health Canada says it will be better able to asses high risk donors.
The FDA has committed itself to considering alternatives to the 90-day restriction on gay and bisexual American men, and in a statement to The Independent did not offer a timeline on the completion of safety trials.
“The FDA remains committed to considering alternatives to time-based deferral by helping to generate the scientific evidence that is intended to support an individual risk assessment-based blood donor questionnaire,” a spokesperson said. “However, developing the scientific information that is needed to change blood donor policies takes time and effort.”
One study programme, the Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility (ADVANCE), is ongoing and is “intended to investigate whether donor deferral can be based on individual risk assessment,” the FDA added. It has 2,000 gay and bisexual men enrolled.
“We do not have a specific timeline for when the study may be completed, but remain committed to gathering the scientific data that can support alternative donor deferral policies that maintain a high level of blood safety,” the FDA said.
A campaigner against the US ban, Jay Franzone, told The Independent that while Canada’s decision was good news for LGBT+ blood donors in the country it “isn’t new science”.
“This is great news but isn’t new science,” he said. “Canada now joins France, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Italy, which modernized their policy in 2001”, by lifting all remaining restrictions.
“The US, despite being in a blood emergency, continues to focus on excluding an entire group of people who, without this homophobic policy would otherwise be safe donors,” Mr Franzone added.
In January, a group of House Democrats also called on the FDA to move forward with lifting its 90 day ban amid a nation-wide shortage of available blood supplies, which the American Red Cross said had left it with one days worth of blood.
“Any policy that continues to categorically single out the LGBTQ+ community is discriminatory and wrong, said the Democrats in that letter. Given advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is not scientifically sound, continues to effectively exclude an entire group of people, and does not meet the urgent demands of the moment.
The lifting of restrictions in Canada is expected to come into effect in September.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.