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RAC Submits Comments Urging FDA to Stop Discriminating Against MSM

Last December, the FDA announced that it would be replacing its current lifelong ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men (MSM) with a policy that allows MSM to give blood if they have not had sex with another man in the past year. Following the release of draft guidance by the FDA on this new policy, Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, submitted the following comments:

On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism whose more than 900 congregations encompass over 1.5 million Reform Jews across North America and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which includes more than 2000 Reform rabbis, we welcome the FDA’s decision to end the lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM). At the same time, we are concerned that the recommended change to a one-year deferral policy for MSM continues to prevent low-risk individuals from donating blood and limits the pool of potentially life-saving blood donors.

Our country is in urgent need of increased blood donors and donations. The Red Cross estimates that, on average, someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds. Ailments such as sickle cell disease and many types of cancer often require blood transfusions, with more than 41,000 blood donations needed every day across America. However, despite this urgent need, the FDA’s recommended new policy would continue to prevent many low-risk men who have had sex with other men from donating blood.

Facilities now screen all donors for high-risk behaviors or diseases, and while there are legitimate concerns regarding a period of up to three weeks between a person’s initial exposure to HIV and when the infection may be detected by blood tests, a one-year deferral does not reflect scientific realities. Moreover, the one-year deferral may not adequately reflect risk factors associated with HIV beyond sexual orientation. Although the American Medical Association has yet to speak publically on the proposed policy change, it has said that deferral periods should be scientifically based and consistently applied to all donors based on their risk level. However, under this new policy men and women who engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners will face no delay or deferral, regardless of risk level, while a man who engages in protected, monogamous sex with another man will face a one-year deferral.

In addition, the revised recommendations note that “male or female gender is taken to be self-identified and self-reported. In instances where a donor has asserted a change in gender identification, medical directors may exercise discretion with regard to donor eligibility.” While we support this note clarifying that gender is taken to be self-identified and self-reported, we wish to make clear our position that there should be no discrimination on the basis of gender identity that will prevent healthy transgender individuals from donating blood.

As Reform Jews, we believe that “he who saves one life it is though he has saved the universe” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). This guiding principle inspires our partnerships with organizations such as the Gift of Life Foundation Bone Marrow Registry, which relies on the participation of individuals willing to give part of themselves to save the lives of others. Under this new policy, Gift of Life (which follows FDA guidelines pertaining to blood donation) will continue to be prohibited from including men who have had sex with men in the past year in their registry.

While we applaud the steps the FDA has taken to eliminate the lifetime ban on MSM, we urge you to do more to safely expand our nation’s blood supply by developing nondiscriminatory, targeted policies based on medical realities and people’s risk, not people’s identities.”

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Jordan Dashow

About Jordan Dashow

Jordan Dashow is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. He graduated in 2014 from Tufts University and is originally from Plainview, NY where he is a member of Manetto Hill Jewish Center.

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