On June 12, 2016, a gunman attacked Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and wounding at least 53. The LGBTQ community rallied to donate blood to the survivors, but blood centers turned away gay and bisexual men because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration bans some of them from donating. The FDA first enacted a lifetime ban in 1985 to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. The restrictions were recently changed so that men who haven’t had sexual contact with another man in the past 12 months can donate blood.
The nightclub attack and FDA’s rules on blood donations are at the center of a public conversation at Capitol Hill’s Gay City on Thursday.
Dr. James P. AuBuchon, president and CEO of Bloodworks Northwest, will participate in a panel discussion about blood donation by gay and bisexual men called “Bad Blood? A Conversation about the FDA Ban on Gay Blood Donation.”
The discussion will look at the FDA’s ban and the history and future of blood donation by gay and bisexual men:
“I am pleased to contribute to the panel at Gay City and to provide background information on the history and medical considerations surrounding this important topic. Blood centers, the gay community, and the FDA have had a long-standing exchange around appropriate methods of protecting the blood supply and accepting a broader community of potential blood donors. The tragedy in Orlando re-ignited a public dialogue about possible further changes. One of our roles as community-based center of expertise in blood and transfusion is to provide reliable information on medical issues for key community organizations such as Gay City.”
AuBuchon, whose research has focused on transfusion safety and blood components, will also provide a scientific look at the ban and the recent steps toward modifying it.
The ban affects many potential donors, but the FDA announced official reconsideration of its blood donation policy in July and accepted public comment through November.
According to a Newsweek article that followed the Pulse nightclub attack, the FDA claims the ban has reduced HIV transmissions.
The FDA says banning MSM from donating blood has helped reduce HIV transmission rates from blood transfusion from 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 1.47 million. However, the American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, the American Medical Association and other medical organizations have all said at some point the blood donation ban is no longer scientifically necessary.
While the FDA cites HIV transmission reduction as a reason for the ban, the agency also requires blood centers to screen donors and test donated blood.
Social justice activist Christopher Peguero and University of Washington professor emeritus and ethicist Phil Bereano will join Aubuchon on the panel.
The free event will begin at 6 PM on Thursday at Gay City, 517 E Pike St.
Bloodworks NW, a nonprofit, community-based blood center, is focused on developing improved ways to collect and store blood components. The organization serves more than 90 hospitals in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.