SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – On World Blood Donation Day and in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, a leading bioethicist Tuesday called for a change in the FDA’s policy regulating blood donations from gay men.
Professor Glenn Cohen who studies bioethics and the law at Harvard told KCBS radio that the policy in place since December is based in fear and not facts.
The Food and Drug Administration lifted a three-decade-old ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men in December, but the lifetime ban was replaced with a new policy barring donations from men who have had sex with a man in the previous year.
“We are talking about a policy more based on fear than a policy based that makes sense based on the facts,” he said.
Annually, the Harvard bioethicist said the policy is robbing blood banks around the country of more than 300,000 pints of much needed blood.
Cohen said the one-year restriction tells gay men “not to donate blood.”
The Harvard bioethicist believes the ban should be replaced by individual risk assessments given to each donor. But the FDA has refused such an approach.
“The FDA has not done a good enough job of explaining the case (against individual assessment),” he said. “We see countries like Italy that have put such assessments in place, I don’t see why we can’t.”
Cohen said it would be hard to assess the impact the ban has had on donations for the Orlando victims. The donated blood must go through several tests before it can be used.
“If you were to donate plasma today, it won’t be used today,” he told KCBS. “It won’t have an immediate impact today.”
According to the American Red Cross, roughly 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood at any given time, but less than 10 percent of those people actually do so each year.
All U.S. blood donations are screened for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The Zika virus has been a more immediate concern, and the FDA asks people to put off donating blood if they have been to outbreak areas, show symptoms of a Zika infection or have had sexual contact with someone exposed to that virus.
TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten. The Associated Press contributed to this report.