City leaders have joined a growing movement calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to lift the 1983 ban on the donation of blood by gay or bisexual men.
Days after the National Gay Blood Drive was held Friday in protest of the ban, Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced a resolution Tuesday in support of overturning the ban, which quickly gained the backing of Mayor Ed Lee.
With improvements in HIV testing, prevention and advances in the gay-rights movement, efforts are increasing against prohibiting gay men from donating blood. If supporters collect 100,000 signatures on a petition by July 31, the Obama administration would have to respond to the request to change the blood donor policy.
The American Medical Association announced opposition to the ban last year.
“The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” AMA board of trustees member Dr. William Kobler said in a July 2013 statement. He said the group supports a policy where “deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”
The existing policy was put into place, according to the FDA, based on statistics showing that gay men have an increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and other infections that can be transmitted by infusion.
While donor blood is tested, the federal agency notes that “the 'window period' exists very early after infection, where even current HIV testing methods cannot detect all infections. During this time, a person is infected with HIV, but may not have enough virus or have developed sufficient antibodies to be detected by available tests.”
While Wiener believes it's important to have guidelines ensuring that blood donors are not engaging in risky behaviors, he stressed, “being gay or bisexual should not disqualify people.”
In expressing his support Tuesday for lifting the ban, Lee said officials must ensure donation criteria are based on the best science and on people's behaviors, not on their sexual orientation.
“The FDA's outdated ban effectively disqualifies eligible donors from contributing to this life-saving practice and is discriminatory,” the mayor said in a statement.
Medical officials note there is an ongoing demand for more blood donors across the nation, as more than 41,000 blood donations are needed every day. A 2010 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA said that lifting the ban on gay men donors would result in 219,000 additional pints of blood being donated each year. At least 21 other countries allow gay men to donate blood.
If the resolution is approved, as expected, it wouldn't be the first time that the board has called for the end of the ban. A similar resolution was approved in 2010 and supported by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom.