FDA Lifts Ban On Blood Donations From Gay Men

December 21st 2015

Alex Mierjeski

The FDA formally lifted its 32-year ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men on Monday, but it also left new restrictions in place that still limit who can donate.

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According to federal health officials, men who have sex with men, or MSM, can give blood so long as they were abstinent for 12 months prior to donation. The agency said the updated blood donor deferral guidelines reflected the "most current scientific evidence" that still protected blood supplies from HIV contamination.

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And while the donation recommendation upgrade for gay men is significant — one year of abstinence up from "indefinitely deferred" — it is likely to face criticism from gay rights activists. Last year, when the agency announced that it would ease the ban and implement the 12-year stipulation, many groups applauded the shift, though some noted that the abstinence requirement still stigmatized gay men.

On Twitter, some users expressed that sentiment:

In other countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom where similar 12-month bans have been implemented recently, activists have taken issue with the notion that while gay people may not donate for 12 months regardless of whether they used protection or not, heterosexual people who may or may not have used protection can donate freely.

The FDA says that education and strict deferral guidelines — which also screen for things like intravenous drug use and commercial sex — have helped ferry blood transfusion HIV transmission rates from rare to extremely rare: from one in 2,500 to one in 1.47 million.

Some estimations say that a 12-month ban could contribute to more than 300,000 additional pints of blood donated annually.

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Still, officials recognize that restrictions put in place during the AIDS scare of the early 1980s today seem overreaching, even discriminatory, and the agency had been toying with removing the ban in recent years. Officials said that while the 12-month ban reflected current science, they would continue to revise policies as new data emerges.