The Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday that it will modify a rule that currently bars any man who has ever had sex with another man from donating blood. But while the agency’s new guidelines may be good news for bisexuals and celibate gay men who want to donate, it’s a far cry from a significant change in policy.
Under the revised guidelines, men who have not had sexual contact with another man within a year will be allowed to donate. “[T]aking into account the recommendations of advisory committees to the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the FDA, the agency will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men from indefinite deferral to one year since the last sexual contact,” the FDA said in a press release. Men who are currently sexually active with other men, however, will still not be permitted to donate.
The current regulations on donating blood, put in place in 1983, stem from the era of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and subsequent panic. But virtually no one has gotten HIV due to a transfusion; just one in 2 million people has contracted the disease that way. Because of these low statistics — combined with the fact that all donated blood is tested for HIV/AIDS — the American Medical Association came out in favor of ending the ban on gay men’s donations in June of 2013.
“The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” Dr. William Kobler, a board member for the AMA, said at the time of the organization’s change in policy stance. “This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”
Democratic members of Congress have similarly spoken out against the ban.
The FDA’s newly-announced regulations put all men who have sex with men into the same category as a very particular slice of straight donors; currently, straight men who have had sex with a woman with HIV can donate, as long as it was not in the last year. A request for comment from an FDA spokesperson on why there is still a distinction had been not returned at press time.
The change in policy could increase blood supply in the U.S. each year by as much as 4 percent, according to the New York Times.