Cami Parrish, The Arizona Republic

Rep. Greg Stanton to FDA: End ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood

Rep. Greg Stanton is pushing the Food and Drug Administration to end the ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, citing a national blood shortage.

“No one doubts the serious need for blood donations, yet an entire group of Americans is excluded from answering the call for help,” Stanton, D-Ariz., wrote in a Feb.15 letter to top U.S. health officials. “This cannot be justified with science.”

In 1983, the FDA issued a lifetime ban on blood donations for gay and bisexual men. The ban was issued before reliable blood testing for HIV was available. Now that testing is readily available, Stanton and other lawmakers are urging the FDA to do away with the ban.

The United States has been facing a blood donation shortage throughout the latest surge of COVID-19, which has been fueled by the omicron variant. The American Red Cross said that the national blood shortage has been the “worst blood shortage in over a decade,” declaring the shortage a “national blood crisis.”

Blood donations are critical in emergency medical situations which may require surgeries, cancer treatment or blood transfusions. When there are blood shortages, it means that people are often forced to wait long periods of time for potentially life-saving medical care.

The restriction has been eased before, most recently during a blood shortage in 2020 in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During that period, instead of gay or bisexual men having to be celibate for one year before blood donation, they only had to be celibate for three months.

Stanton wrote his first letter calling on the FDA to end the ban during that shortage in 2020, saying "the current policy of requiring men who have sex with men to be celibate for a year before they can donate cannot be justified with science.”

“This ban is based on stigma, not science," Bridget Sharpe, the Human Rights Campaign's Arizona director said in a written statement distributed by Stanton's office. "Arizona is facing a critical blood shortage — a crisis that can be eased by modernizing the Food and Drug Administration’s discriminatory policy that bans men who have sex with men from donating blood."

The FDA has not said if it will ease restrictions during the ongoing shortage.

Banner Health, headquartered in Phoenix, encouraged via a late January news release Phoenix residents to donate blood to help end the biggest shortage in two years.