White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended on Tuesday the Obama administration policy requiring celibacy of gay men for one year before they can donate blood amid calls for additional contributions in the wake of the Orlando shooting.
Under questioning from the Washington Blade on whether the ban would be revisited, Earnest asserted the policy, implemented by the Food & Drug Administration last year in place of the lifetime ban instituted in 1983, is based on scientific advice.
“It was made consistent with the advice that our scientists have offered about the best way to ensure the safety of the blood supply,” Earnest said. “So, you do know, and I think you covered this, that there was a policy decision that was made to change what had been a lifetime ban on gay men donating to a one-year deferral that you described. So, there has been a policy change.”
Earnest defended the policy despite continued calls from LGBT advocates to lift the blanket ban on gay and bisexual men and put in its place a policy based on individual risk assessment.
“That is a policy change that was made consistent with the advice of our best scientists and public health professionals,” Earnest added. “The president believes that when it comes to these kinds of questions that we’re going to rely on scientific advice.”
Asked if there’s any opportunity for change in the remaining months of the Obama administration, or whether that would have to wait until the next presidency, Earnest emphasized the importance of science.
“If there are additional changes that are made, it’s going to be rooted in the advice that we’re getting from the scientists at the FDA,” Earnest said.
According to the Florida-based group One Blood, there was an urgent need for O-negative, O-positive and AB-plasma blood donors following the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 49 dead and 53 wounded. Some media reports circulated the FDA had temporarily lifted its policy to accommodate the emergency, but One Blood denied that was the case and said the ban remained in effect.
Conceivably, a gay or bisexual person seeking to donate blood for a friend, partner or spouse who was a victim of the Orlando shooting could have been barred from doing so by acknowledging having had sex in the past year with the person for whom the donation was intended.
The Blade has placed a call to the Department of Health & Human Services to inquire if any gay or bisexual men were blocked from donating blood in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting.
Jay Franzone, spokesperson for the National Gay Blood Drive, said the Orlando shooting “absolutely” demonstrates the need to revisit the gay blood ban.
“The need for blood is constant and the tragic massacre in Orlando reminded us of that need,” Franzone said. “It was clear before it was even announced that the 12-month deferral didn’t go far enough. It was the result of an overabundance of government bureaucracy and caution, not science. Now we find ourselves in a situation where the victims directly affected by this tragedy and in need of lifesaving blood are the very people banned from donating it. We strongly encourage HHS & FDA to revisit the policy at their upcoming committee meetings and start to move toward a deferral based upon individual risk assessment.”