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France is lifting its ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men

France is lifting its ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men

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Next year, France will lift a long-running ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. "Giving blood is a generous act that cannot be conditioned by sexual orientation," said Marisol Touraine, the country's health minister. France enacted its exclusion law in 1983 as part of an effort to combat the spread of AIDS, but the ban has long been criticized as outdated and discriminatory. "While respecting patient safety, today we are lifting a taboo," Touraine said.

Beginning in the spring, blood donations will be open to men who've refrained from sexual activity with other men for 12 months. Men who've had sexual encounters with a single male partner over the last four months will be able to make partial donations that are limited to blood plasma. Touraine explained that France will lift the ban in stages so that it may study any potential health risk increases. If there aren't any during the first year, France says it will reduce the year-long deferral period so that it matches the blood donation policy that applies to heterosexuals. Heterosexual donors are ineligible to give blood if they've engaged in sexual activity with more than one partner over a four-month period.

If that pans out, France's new approach will be notably more flexible than US policies. In May, the US Food and Drug Administration recommended ending its lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, a policy that's been in place since 1983. Instead, the US plans to switch over to a year-long deferral period, which could increase the blood supply by 4 percent. But a 12-month deferral is still viewed by many as irrational since it prevents men who practice safe sex with a single partner from donating. But its a window that's proven popular in countries that are putting an end to even longer bans; the Netherlands recently announced its own plan to open blood donations to gay and bisexual men for the first time.