Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. joined forces Monday to urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reconsider the policy restricting blood donations from men who have had sex with men in the past year.
Framed in light of the recent shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the senators wrote the “tragedy shines an ever sharper spotlight on the need to move to a donor deferral policy based on individual risk factors.” Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., is the only Republican to sign the letter to the FDA.
Garrett Jurss, a gay man and lifelong Florida resident who was turned away last week after attempting to donate blood, said the letter, signed by 24 senators in total, is a step in the right direction.
“It’s my hope that we’re able to once again see a human as a human,” Jurss said. “To see the person there that wants to help, that wants to donate and allow us to.”
Baldwin, the first openly gay woman to serve in the Senate, wrote on Twitter that the FDA should “develop better blood donation policies based on science.”
FDA public affairs specialist Tara Goodin wrote in an email to NBC OUT that the FDA will continue to review its policies to “ensure they reflect the most up-to-date scientific knowledge.”
When asked if the time frame would be affected by these efforts from Baldwin and other senators, Goodin said “this process must be data-driven, so the time frame for future changes is not something we can predict.”
Goodin told NBC OUT the policy that a man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months refrain from donating blood is based on data known about the HIV epidemiology.
She cited 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which found gay and bisexual men between the ages of 13 and 24 comprise approximately 72 percent of new HIV infections in that age group.
In the letter to the FDA, the senators wrote, “a one-year deferral continues to perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes about an entire group of individuals and remains a de facto lifetime ban for many healthy gay and bisexual men.”
Jurss said he wholeheartedly agrees with the senators that assessing donors "based on individual risk factors" is the right approach.
"A woman or even a heterosexual male could have the AIDS virus due to other circumstances, but they are not prevented from giving blood," Jurss said to NBC OUT. "The blood is still tested for HIV, so it's unfair to use blanket discrimination to prevent healthy men from donating."
Goodin said although the FDA considered alternate deferral criteria, documentation from other countries, including Australia, showed the 12-month deferral was found to “maintain the safety of the blood supply.”
“Evidence shows that self-reporting presents significant issues in the U.S. for a number of reasons, including lack of sufficient data on the effectiveness of donor educational questionnaires and lack of reliability in self-reports of monogamy by partners in any type of sexual relationship,” Goodin wrote.
Goodin said the FDA will review the letter from the senators and respond directly to the authors.