Gay ER doctor who survived COVID-19 says he can't donate plasma because he’s sexually active: 'We’re sitting on something that could be saving lives'
After recovering from COVID-19, Dr. Dillon Barron (R) and his partner Eric Seelbach (L) that they cannot donate plasma due to FDA restrictions. (Screenshot: CBS 2)
After Dr. Dillon Barron, an emergency physician at Amita Health's St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois, and his partner Eric Seelbach had fully recovered from COVID-19 when they wanted to donate their plasma, which contains antibodies that can help other patients with immunity. But Barron and Seelbach say they were rejected because they are a sexually active gay couple.
"I was really excited to do something, stay in control, and feel like I was helping people," Barron told CBS Chicago. "We're sitting on something that could save lives." Barron and Seelbach did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment.
Controversial restrictions that prevent sexually active gay and bisexual men from donating blood have existed since 1983, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first prohibited any man who has ever had sex with another man from donating blood of the growing HIV / AIDS epidemic. In 2015, restrictions were revised to allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood as long as they hadn't been sexually active in the past 12 months.
The human rights campaign called the requirement "outdated" in an April 2020 press release and called on the FDA to change its policy. Given the urgent need for blood and plasma caused by a lack of donations during the coronavirus pandemic, the agency eased restrictions from a 12-month shift to a 3-month one last April.
In a statement to Yahoo Life, the American Red Cross says that "like all blood collectors in the United States," they "must follow the FDA-approved guidelines." However, the organization added: “It is important to emphasize that the Red Cross believes that eligibility to donate blood should not be determined by methods based on sexual orientation. We are committed to achieving this goal and are encouraged by the change in FDA eligibility, which we see as a scientifically sound intermediate step towards achieving our larger goal. "
In the meantime, organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and GLAAD, have fought against the restrictions, declaring that they are not scientific.
"When it was introduced in 1983, it was argued that this discriminatory ban was based on limited public health risk knowledge," HRC President Alphonso David told Yahoo Life. "... The [revised restrictions] are still obviously discriminatory and geared towards identity rather than risk factors, which is why we spoke out in favor of identity lifting."
Some members of the congress agree. Most recently, House Resolution 989, proposed by Californian representative Adam Schiff on June 1, called for the three-month deferral policy for gay and bisexual men to be lifted, calling it "too stringent given the scientific evidence and advanced testing methods." and the safety and quality control measures taken in the various FDA-qualified blood donation centers. "
The resolution found that lifting the ban "could result in up to 4,200,000 new male donors, 360,600 of whom would likely donate and 615,300 additional pints of blood would be generated."
David added: "As the global pandemic advances, the integrity and security of blood supply in this country must be maintained, strengthened and maintained. The continued enforcement of the de facto ban on blood donation by sexually active gay and bisexual men is not science, it is bias and fear. We will continue to push for this policy to be changed. "
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