Senate Approves Resolution Urging the Federal Government to Drop Outdated and Discriminatory Blood Donor Policies Against Gay Men

SJR 26 Calls for Science-Based Means to Determine Safe and Suitable Donors

Thursday, August 11, 2016

SACRAMENTO – The Senate today approved a bi-partisan resolution by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) that urges President Obama to direct the federal government to shelf outdated blood-donor-suitability policies that discriminate against gay men.

Senate Joint Resolution 26 asks the Federal Drug Administration to develop science-based policies and criteria on risky behavior rather than sexual orientation.

“The basis of our current standards for determining blood-donor suitability was developed decades ago at a time when our knowledge of HIV and our detection methods were limited,” said Senate Leader de León. “Since then, time and science have marched on and so must our policies.”

“America is facing a critical blood supply shortage.  Many healthy men want to donate blood, yet are being denied due to an outdated, discriminatory policy.  This is wrong,” said Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes. “No healthy person should be turned away when they want to help save people’s lives.  Republicans and Democrats stand together in urging Washington to develop new blood donation policies that are based on sound science, not fear.”

“When so many otherwise eligible gay and bisexual men who wanted to donate blood after the recent tragedy in Orlando were turned away, the need to reform the FDA's outdated policy on blood donation once again became painfully clear,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, a sponsor of the resolution. “A gay man in a monogamous relationship who has repeatedly tested negative for HIV is prohibited from giving blood, while non-LGBT men who engage in high risk behaviors are allowed to donate. We urge the FDA to develop risk-based blood donation policies based on modern science and individual behavior instead of stereotypes, stigma, and fear.”

In 1983, the FDA adopted a policy that prohibited blood donations by men who had engaged in sex with other men at any time since 1977. In late 2015, the FDA revised its policy to allow blood donations from men who have not engaged in sex with other men for the past 12 months.

Critics, however, content that while this new policy is a step in the right direction it still discriminates against gay and bi-sexual men in a committed relationship and ignores advances in HIV-detection technology that have significantly reduced the risk of HIV transmission through blood donations to 1 in 1.47 million.

Current technology can detect HIV in a blood sample within seven to 10 days transmission with 99.9 percent accuracy. The chance of an inaccurate blood test in the 10-day time frame is 1 in 2 million. 

Rather than stick to a policy that defers potential donors for a year based on sexual orientation, SJR 26 and its supporters seek the adoption of donor-suitability policies that recognize the advances in detection technology and utilizes individual-risk assessment criteria to detect at-risk behavior among all populations to determine suitability.

Doing so would significantly relieve the critical shortage of banked blood used to save lives without risking the safety of the blood supply.

Less than a year after adopting its current suitability policy, the FDA is already reconsidering and is seeking public comment on the feasibility of alternative deferral options, such as the use of individual risk assessments.

Passed in the Senate by a vote of 33-0, SJR 26 now moves to the Assembly for consideration.

Other resolution supporters include APLA Health, Project Inform and Access Support Network of San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties.