Our nation’s health care system continues to deal with a myriad of challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which are complex and will likely require a substantial amount of time to address and correct.
One of the most pressing issues in the delivery of quality care, however, can be mitigated by rescinding a policy that is discriminatory and not based in sound science. The physicians of the Massachusetts Medical Society and The Fenway Institute urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revoke its policy on unnecessary scrutiny and subsequent exclusion of men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood – 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 nation’s dangerous shortage of donor blood and blood products poses a serious health risk to our patients, whether they suffer with chronic conditions that could require donor blood or have an acute need for lifesaving treatment that requires emergency transfusion.
The pandemic has rightfully brought about an increased effort to educate the public on the importance of science as it pertains to health care. 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 Medical Society and The Fenway Institute recommend federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their 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.
Carole E. Allen, MD, MBA, FAAP; President, Massachusetts Medical Society
Sean Cahill, PhD; Director of Health Policy Research, The Fenway Institute