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AG Nessel Calls for End to “Outdated” Blood Donation Policy That Stigmatizes Some LGBTQ Individuals

LANSING — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a 22-state coalition in support of the Biden Administration's new proposed policy that would make it easier for members of the LGBTQ population to donate blood and plasma. The current policy recommends barring gay and bisexual men from donating blood within three months of their most recent sexual contact, regardless of whether they engaged in high-risk behavior. In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration introduced new proposed guidance that would abandon the current discriminatory approach and instead use a risk-based analysis for all donors, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. In a comment letter, AG Nessel supported the new policy, which would both help increase the available blood supply and reduce the stigmatizing harms of the current approach by applying a risk-based approach.

“A risk-based approach to blood and plasma donation makes the most sense and will help end the unfair stigmatization of certain members of the LGBTQ community who want to donate and help others,” Nessel said. “Each day, the U.S. needs approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells, nearly 7,000 units of platelets, and 10,000 units of plasma. The COVID-19 pandemic depleted the blood supply down to record levels and the Biden Administration’s common-sense approach to screening donors can help replenish it. I stand with my colleagues in supporting the FDA and the U.S. Health and Human Services Departments in replacing the outdated gender- and sexuality-based donor screening with a risk-based approach.”

According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. Blood transfusions and blood products are needed for major surgeries, to treat diseases such as sickle cell anemia and some cancers, and to treat victims injured by accidents, violence, or natural disasters. In the last few years, as the COVID-19 crisis reduced the number of community events and blood drives being held, blood donations dropped significantly. In January 2022, the Red Cross declared its first-ever national blood crisis – its worst blood shortage in over a decade.

The danger to the lives of patients during this crisis could have been significantly reduced if these donation restrictions were lifted. Data from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law Williams Institute indicates that lifting restrictions completely, as compared to a 12-month waiting period, would produce nearly 300,000 pints of additional donated blood annually and could help save the lives of more than a million people.

If the Biden Administration’s new proposed recommendations become final, blood banks in the United States will be urged to discard the previous policy and instead ask all donors, regardless of their actual or perceived gender or sexual orientation, if they have had sex with a new partner or more than one partner in the last three months. Based on their answers, they would either be allowed to donate blood or asked to wait for three months.

In the letter, AG Nessel applauded the Biden Administration’s proposal to change the policy, saying it would:

  • Increase the availability of blood nationwide, addressing crucial shortage issues and saving more lives; and
  • Remove discriminatory aspects of the current guidance that violate constitutional Equal Protection principles.

In filing the comment letter, AG Nessel joined the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

A copy of the letter can be found here.


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