Capitol Tracker: Bill aims to increase transparency over blood donations

Local blood banks says similar rules already mandated by feds

The Northern California Community Blood Bank in Eureka follows FDA rules that mandate notifying potential donors if they cannot make a donation. A similar rule was introduced this month in the state Legislature. (Google Maps)
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A bill introduced by state Sen. Toni Atkins aims to provide greater transparency to those whose blood donations are rejected or deferred.

The legislation is aimed at providing reasons to people when they are not allowed to donate blood for one reason or another.

“Many blood banks and plasma centers in California are experiencing shortages, including in my own community,” said Atkins in a prepared statement earlier this month. ” That’s why I am proud to author SB 851, which will help Californians better understand the circumstances if they are told they are unable to donate blood, and which will also help prevent arbitrary discrimination from blocking safe blood donations.”

The bill, she said, will require blood banks and plasma centers to “provide legitimate reasons if they are deemed unable to donate.”

“With SB 851 we can maximize the number of Californians who know if and when they are able to donate blood, and we can ensure that science and safety, not someone’s personal prejudice, are behind decisions affecting the blood donations our communities so badly need,” Atkins said.

The bill is aimed at providing transparency to LGBTQ individuals, Atkins said, who face barriers in being able to donate. For example, while restrictions on gay men were eased in 2015, blood banks were still restricted from accepting donations from men who have had sex with other men in the past year.

Interestingly, blood banks such as the Northern California Community Blood Bank in Eureka, already provide the rationale behind why someone cannot donate blood. It occurs during the screening process — when someone might disclose a factor that makes them high-risk — and it’s also done when blood is tested. That’s required under U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.

“Those are coded in the Code of Federal Regulations which means they are law,” said Laura Williston, who handles quality assurance at the local blood bank.

John Gullam, the executive director of the bank, reiterated the center functions under FDA rules.

“This rule says we have to tell them why,” he said. “In most cases, it’s pretty apparent from the questionnaire.”

So what is the need for redundant rules?

“California’s blood banks are regulated by the California Department of Public Health,” said Lizelda Lopez, the spokesperson for Atkins’ office, in an email to the Times-Standard. “Blood banks may follow FDA guidelines, however, they are not required by state law to do so. That is why SB 851 is an important piece of legislation that would codify a requirement that blood banks and plasma centers provide potential donors with legitimate reasons if they are deemed unable to donate.”

Both Williston and Gullam said they, and organizations such as the Blood Centers of California, of which the local blood bank is a member, are taking a wait-and-see approach to the bill.

“We have to wait and see what’s behind it,” said Williston. “We’re unclear; we don’t have all the information yet.”

Efforts to reach the Blood Centers of California were unsuccessful on Monday.

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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