The nation’s largest association of physicians voted this week to oppose a long-standing Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on gay men donating blood, a rule created as part of the panic that accompanied the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The American Medical Association’s (AMA) vote, which took place late on Tuesday, was a strong medical rebuke to the 1983 policy. Virtually no (1 in 2 million) HIV infections are caused by transfusions, partly because modern medicine allows for individualized HIV/AIDS testing. Because HIV positive individuals can be specifically screened out, prohibiting any man who has had sex with a man (MSM) since 1977, as the FDA rule does, is unequivocally blanket discrimination against gay and bisexual men as a class.
The AMA’S decision is a response to these scientific and social realities. “The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” AMA board member Dr. William Kobler said. “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.”
At the time the AMA rule was implemented, AIDS was thought by many to be a “gay disease,” a now-thoroughly debunked falsehood that nonetheless is still shaping federal policy through the FDA rule. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services asked a committee of experts to reexamine the policy. Earlier this year, Canada ended its outright ban on MSM donating blood in favor of a deferral period requiring a man to wait five years after having sex with another man before donating.
In the United States, the outright ban on MSM donating blood exists despite only a 12-month ban on blood donation after a person has heterosexual sexual contact with someone who is HIV-positive.