FDA to lift gay blood ban

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The U.S. Food & Drug Administration announced Tuesday that it will reduce the lifetime ban on blood donation by gay men to a one-year deferral after sexual activity. 

For more than 30 years, men who have ever had sex with another man have been prevented from donating blood, a policy driven by confusion surrounding the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. LGBT and HIV/AIDS advocates have long called for the agency to rely on science, not stigma, and drop the ban. 

In a statement Tuesday, the FDA said it “carefully examined and considered the scientific evidence” before coming to its conclusion. More details about the policy change will be announced next year.

The easing of the ban is expected to increase the nation’s blood supply by up to 4 percent. 

Scott Schoettes, Lambda Legal senior attorney and director of the HIV Project, welcomed the announcement but said the progress can’t end there.

“This is a step in the right direction, but blood-donation policy should be based on current scientific knowledge and experience, not unfounded fear, generalizations and stereotypes,” he said. “Merely changing the parameters of this outdated policy does not alter its underlying discriminatory nature, eliminate its negative and stigmatizing effects, nor transform it into a policy based on current scientific and medical knowledge.”

Schoettes said his agency believes any deferral period should be closer to two months or less, and should “be based entirely on the conduct of the potential donor and not on sexual orientation, gender identity or the perceived health status or risk factors of the donor’s sexual partners. If we are serious about a policy that is truly most protective of the blood supply, it will treat all potential donors the same and base any deferrals on the conduct of those potential donors within a scientifically justified ‘window period’ prior to donation.”

David Stacy, government-affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign, concurred that the revision does not go far enough.

“While this new policy is movement toward an optimal policy that reflects fundamental fairness and the best scientific research, it falls far short of an acceptable solution because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men, preventing them from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation, rather than a policy based on actual risk to the blood supply,” Stacy said. “This new policy cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology. We will continue to work towards an eventual outcome that both minimizes risk to the blood supply and treats gay and bisexual men with the respect they deserve.”