Dems consider more FDA funding to end ban on gay blood donors

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Top House Democrats are eying more funding for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help speed up the agency’s effort to eliminate the decades-old policy preventing many gay men from donating blood.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said she spoke by phone to the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Sunday night, hours after 49 people were killed and 53 more injured in a shooting at a gay night club in her home state. 

{mosads}The Orlando shooting, which flooded the nearby trauma center, spurred an outpouring of support from gay and bisexual men who wanted to donate blood but were turned away because of the FDA’s policy. In 1983, the FDA put a lifetime ban on gay men from donating blood; last year, it changed its policy to allow men who have abstained from sex with a man for 12 months to be blood donors. 

Wasserman Schultz said at the Tuesday press conference that she asked the FDA commissioner, Robert Califf, if more funding would help lift the ban entirely.

“They are absolutely moving forward [with this change],” Wasserman Schultz said at a briefing Tuesday afternoon that also included Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “We need to expedite that process.”

Wasserman Schultz pointed out that she sits on the Appropriations Committee with Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) — both of whom have been longtime leaders on the issue.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), who also attended Tuesday’s press conference, highlighted his role as ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls FDA funding.

Democrats also began circulating a letter on Tuesday that urges Califf and his staff to “move swiftly toward future changes” that judge an individual’s risk for diseases like HIV/AIDS based on their behavior, rather than their sexual orientation.

The ban remains a divisive issue among government health officials, even as groups such as the American Medical Association and the American Red Cross call it “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”

“It is our view that this tragedy, more than any other, shines a light on the need for a permanent reversal of this policy,” the letter to Califf reads.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that the administration did not have specific plans to change the blood donation policy.

“We’re going to rely on scientific advice,” Earnest told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s going to be rooted in the advice we’re getting from scientists at the FDA.”  

Wasserman Schultz said Earnest’s remarks did not indicate that the White House was unwilling to review its policy — just that it is not yet doing so. 

Many critics say the current policy that requires a donor to have refrained from having sex with another man for at least 12 months is a de facto ban for many. 

In a news conference Tuesday, doctors from the Orlando Regional Medical Center said 44 people were transported to the hospital after the shooting. Nine were pronounced dead on arrival, and 27 remained hospitalized Tuesday, including six in intensive care.

Tags blood donors FDA LGBT issues Orlando nightclub shooting Sam Farr Xavier Becerra
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