Amid blood shortage, new push looks to lift all restrictions from gay men donating

Posted at 7:58 PM, May 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-23 20:58:11-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — We've been hearing for months about a blood shortage across the country. Along with the call for more donors come new calls for changes to who's eligible to give.

"Especially in a time we've seen devastating blood shortages, and there is a critical need, you have an entire group of people who are not allowed to participate in that," said Nashville infectious diseases physician Kevin Gibas.

Gibas is part of the push to end restrictions on gay men donating blood. Canada just lifted all restrictions last month. Statements have also recently been made by the head of the American Medical Association and by Harvard Health Publishing calling to do the same in the US, especially in light of what's happened in the last two years.

The Red Cross says we're experiencing a national blood crisis with donations down more than 10% since before the pandemic. They say this is the worst blood shortage we've had for more than a decade.

"Initially, when the restrictions were introduced in the 1980s, it was because we didn't have the capacity to test all the blood for HIV," said Gibas. "Now we do have that capacity, and we do test all of our blood."

The restrictions have changed over the years from that outright ban on gay men donating blood, to most recently gay men being required to be celibate for three months before giving blood.

"Blanket restrictions still exclude a lot of people who can and should be donating blood," said Gibas. "It is a sense of, 'you're not welcome here. You're not allowed to partake in this.'"

In addressing this, the Red Cross said, "The Red Cross recognizes the hurt this policy has caused to many in the LGBTQ+ community and believes blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation. However, as a regulated organization, we cannot unilaterally enact changes concerning the [men who have sex with men] deferral policy."

Changes would have to come from the FDA, which is currently funding a study on alternatives to determine eligibility to donate blood.