Change to donation law will help blood supply

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s new blood-donation guidelines recommend all potential donors be asked the same risk-based questions, regardless of sexual orientation, gender or sex. There will no longer be blanket exclusions that some LGBTQ groups have argued were discriminatory.

Many in the gay and bisexual community can now donate blood.

If that seems scary, it shouldn’t.

“FDA has finally looked at the evidence,” Arthur Caplan, founding head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, said recently on Boston Public Radio.

The evidence includes the success of policies in place in other countries — notably the United Kingdom and Canada – and findings from the Transfusion Transmitted Infections Monitoring System (TTIMS), which included data from four U.S. blood collection organizations. The FDA-funded ADVANCE (Assessing Donor Variability and New Concepts in Eligibility) study also supports evaluating donor eligibility using individual donor assessment.

Susan Forbes, senior vice president of corporate communication and public relations for OneBlood, told CNN: “It’s going to make a donation more inclusive. It ensures that all donors are treated equally. It enables more people the opportunity to donate blood. So anytime more people are able to enter the donor pool safely, that is a good thing. And this really is the start of a new era of blood donor eligibility.”

Screening for blood donation is a two-tier system with testing considered the main safeguard. Every single blood sample is tested for a variety of communicable diseases, including the hepatitis B and C, and HIV viruses. Today’s testing is very accurate but because it is not perfect, an individual’s answers on the donor-history questionnaire can clarify whether a potential donor should be accepted or deferred.

The need for individuals to be honest in answering screening questions cannot be overemphasized.

Critics of FDA’s changes say that while the original questions used in donor-history screening may be uncomfortably specific for some, they were chosen for good reasons. If blood recipients could pick their donor, wouldn’t they want to know about sexual orientation, gender and sex?

Unless there has been a special arrangement or the person receiving the blood self-donated and stored it (autologous blood) prior to a planned surgery, the blood bag delivered by the nurse to the patient is anonymous.

According to the American Red Cross, approximately 29,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day — and someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion every two seconds.

Hospital demand is outpacing blood donations.

Whether one agrees or disagrees, FDA’s new guidelines will substantially increase the nation’s blood supply.

Mark Ryan of Tallahassee is a registered nurse.