Physicians in Massachusetts Say it's Time to Lift the MSM Blood Donations Restrictions

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday March 24, 2022

Physicians in Massachusetts, citing a national blood shortage, called on the FDA to end restrictions on donations from men who have sex with men, The Boston Herald reported.

Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are currently required by the FDA to abstain from sex — even if they are married or partnered and sexually exclusive — for 90 days before they can be considered eligible to donate blood.

Until recently, the requirement was a year of celibacy; that requirement itself was a shift from a lifetime ban that was put in place in the 1980s, in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and before modern testing techniques.

Critics have long called the FDA's deferral policies discriminatory, noting that heterosexual men wishing to donate blood are not required to be celibate even if they are not monogamous. A joint statement from "[t]he physicians of the Massachusetts Medical Society and The Fenway Institute" reiterated that, calling the policy "discriminatory and not based in sound science," The Herald reported.

In the statement, the doctors called ending the deferral policy "a simple, safe step that will expand a blood supply that is perilously low across all health care settings.

"While we are grateful for a recent FDA change that shortened the required period of sexual abstinence for MSM who wish to donate blood from one year to 90 days, we believe the time to lift all such restrictions is now," the statement added.

The physicians called for the FDA to assess any bans or deferrals "according to [donors'] individual level of risk, not based on sexual orientation or other personal characteristics."

"An immediate shift in policy will help us care for our patients and save lives, while reversing an arbitrary rule that does nothing to advance public health and exacerbates stigma against members of the LGBTQ community," the statement went on to say.

"Scientific advances have dramatically improved blood screening and there remains no evidence to suggest that including MSM in the pool of available blood donors poses an increased risk of adverse outcomes to patients in need," the doctors pointed out.

The statement follows a similar call from Democratic lawmakers earlier this year. As previously reported at EDGE, Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to the FDA calling out the "troubling policy" and saying that it "continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men" and "undermine crucial efforts to ensure an adequate and stable national blood supply."

The letter coincided with the Red Cross declaring an unprecedented national blood crisis.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.