Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Urges the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to Reconsider Discriminatory Blood Donor Deferral Policies

Monday, July 11, 2016
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LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf to abandon the practice of deferring blood donations from men who have had sex with a man (MSM) even once within twelve months of attempting to donate blood. In the letter, Attorney General Harris argues that modern technology and an increasingly sophisticated understanding of HIV allows the FDA to implement alternative non-discriminatory, scientifically sound methods for ensuring the safety of the nation’s blood supply.

In the wake of the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, FL and the ensuing urgent need for blood donations, many safe and willing donors were turned away in order to comply with the FDA’s deferral guidance. 

“Understanding the FDA’s responsibility for maintaining the safety of the nation’s blood supply and your steadfast commitment to implementing data-driven policies, I call on you to consider less categorical risk-based donation policies that will ensure blood safety,” stated Attorney General Harris.

“As we work to achieve the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law, it is our duty to amend or repeal policies that keep us anchored to a shameful past. To those who suffer under lingering injustices and indignities, it is no answer to say: ‘Be patient and wait.’ And with regards to the FDA’s guidance, the time for patience is over,” the Attorney General added.

In 2015, the FDA’s “Revised Recommendations for Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Blood and Blood Products: Guidance for Industry” took a positive step by abandoning the outdated lifetime ban on MSM blood donations. However, the current standard of an unconditional twelve-month deferral period is functionally equivalent to a lifetime ban for many gay and bisexual men, and fails to maximize the eligible blood donor pool.

The Attorney General argues that adopting deferral guidelines that identify a donor’s actual risk of carrying HIV will help to overcome the nation’s routine blood shortages. By amending a discriminatory policy that wrongly stigmatizes LGBTQ Americans, this change will also allow the United States to write a new chapter in its civil rights history.

Attorney General Harris’ letter is yet another instance of her longstanding commitment as an ally of the LGBTQ community.  During her time as Attorney General, she has filed multiple amicus briefs defending same-sex couples’ constitutional right to marry.

In 2013, Attorney General Harris declined to defend Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot measure that would have outlawed same-sex marriage in California. Her decision was based on her commitment to uphold the Constitution and ensure every citizen is afforded the fundamental right to equal treatment under the law.

In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic opinion in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, which overturned the Proposition 8 ballot initiative. In recognition of the Court’s decision, Attorney General Harris declared that every county in the State of California must recognize same-sex couples’ right to legally marry.

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