Gay men will be able to donate blood one year after their last sexual contact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday, under a proposal that will be introduced early next year to end a ban that has been in place since 1983. Scientific evidence shows the move will not create risks for the nation’s blood supply, the FDA said. The policy change is expected to boost the supply of donated blood by hundreds of thousands of pints per year. Blood donations from gay men have been barred since the discovery that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was being transmitted through transfusions.
The FDA said it will issue draft guidance on the policy, hopefully early in 2015. It would then review the comments and issue final guidance “as quickly as possible,” Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said during a press briefing. An FDA advisory committee met this month to discuss issues around changing the policy, such as the effectiveness of new blood supply tests for HIV infections. In November, an advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended a one-year deferral. The FDA stopped short of eliminating the ban for gay men altogether. Marks said during the briefing that scientific evidence for a ban shorter than a year was not “compelling.”
The ACLU has slammed the change:
“The FDA’s proposal must be seen as part of an ongoing process and not an end point,” said Ian Thompson, ACLU Legislative Representative. “The reality for most gay and bisexual men — including those in committed, monogamous relationships — is that this proposal will continue to function as a de facto lifetime ban. Criteria for determining blood donor eligibility should be based on science, not outdated, discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions.” The FDA blood donation policy, which has been in place since 1983, prohibits any man who has had sex with another man, even one time, since 1977 from donating blood. The American Civil Liberties Union previously submitted comments urging the FDA to reassess its policy based on current scientific evidence.
Similar sentiments from Lambda Legal:
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. Merely changing the parameters of this outdated policy does not alter its underlying discriminatory nature, eliminate its negative and stigmatizing effects, nor transform it into a policy based on current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. Within 45 days of exposure, currently required blood donation testing detects all known serious blood-borne pathogens, including HIV. Therefore, a deferral of more than two months–for anyone–is not necessary and does not noticeably enhance the safety of the blood supply. Furthermore, donor deferrals 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.
The reason is straight-forward, and is a foundational principle of our prevention efforts: an adult person becomes HIV-positive–or acquires another blood-borne pathogen–only after engaging in activities that present a risk of transmission. To base deferrals primarily on prevalence within certain communities rather than behavior could serve to disqualify other segments of the population based on race, sex and where they reside–a very slippery slope toward more easily recognizable forms of illegal discrimination. 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.