A year ago, the US Food and Drug Administration recommended lifting the ban that disqualified gay men from giving blood. Today, the FDA followed through on that recommendation — but only for men who haven't had sex with another man for a year or more.
The ban on blood donations from gay men was put in place in 1983 during the HIV epidemic. Until now, gay and bisexual men who’d fooled around with other men at any point after 1977 weren’t allowed to donate blood in the US. Today's FDA announcement therefore does appear to make it easier for gay men to donate blood — but a year of abstinence will still prevent many men from donating. The FDA's new guidance on blood donations isn't law, but blood donation centers tend to follow the agency's lead.
BREAKING: FDA lifts formal ban on blood donations from gay men. New policy requires year of abstinence.— The Associated Press (@AP) December 21, 2015
“The FDA’s responsibility is to maintain a high level of blood product safety for people whose lives depend on it,” the FDA’s Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, said in a statement. “We have taken great care to ensure this policy revision is backed by sound science and continues to protect our blood supply.”
the policy revision "continues to protect our blood supply."
The 12 month waiting period is a common international standard. As of November, France also requires 12 months of abstinence from gay men for blood donation, though men who’ve only had sex with one partner in the past four months can donate blood plasma instead. The Netherlands has lifted its ban on blood donations from gay men — but again, that policy only applies to men who haven't had sexual contact with other men for 12 months.
For many, the FDA's new guidance is still discriminatory because it focuses on sexual orientation rather than an individual's risky behaviors, such as injection drug use and unprotected sex. A better policy would have taken into account the steps that gay men take to reduce the risk of infection, such as practicing safe sex or taking the anti-HIV pill, Truvada. “Today we begin the final push to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation from the blood donation process altogether,” Ryan James Yezak, founder of the Gay National Gay Blood Drive, said in a statement to the press. "We strongly encourage the FDA to move toward a deferral based upon individual risk assessment."
The FDA considered a risks-based assessment strategy, but eventually settled on the 12-month limit, the agency said. "Ultimately, the 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the U.S. population," Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research explained. "We will continue to actively conduct research in this area and further revise our policies as new data emerge," the FDA said.