The FDA formally announced on Monday that it finalized the policy change first announced a year ago: The lifetime ban on blood donation by any man who has ever had sex with another man will now be replaced with a one-year ban. This will allow abstinent gay men, transgender women, and some bisexuals to donate, but will still exclude about half of the roughly 4.2 million people previously excluded by the ban.
The regulations on donating blood were put in place in 1983 in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and related panic. While virtually no one gets HIV due to a transfusion and all donated blood is tested for HIV/AIDS, the policy prohibited donations by any man who engaged in oral or anal sex with another man, even once, since 1977.
In 2013, the American Medical Association urged that the lifetime ban be lifted, calling it “discriminatory and not based on sound science.” Instead, the group urged a policy that assessed individual risk, rather than sexual orientation alone.
The new policy, according to the FDA, will allow self-identified males to donate blood unless they had “sexual contact with another man” in the past 12 months — or would otherwise be disqualified. The agency said it “examined a variety of recent studies, epidemiologic data, and shared experiences from other countries that have made recent MSM deferral policy changes.”
With blood supplies always tight in the United States, the Williams Institute estimated last year that lifting the ban would likely mean 360,600 more blood donors annually — an increase of about 2 to 4 percent of the total blood supply. With a one year restriction, that estimate drops to about 185,800 additional men donating.
Critics note that even this new policy is unnecessary and stigmatizing to gay men. As it fails to take into account whether the would-be donor used a condom, engaged only in oral sex, was on PrEP, or had otherwise reduced the odds of HIV transmission — even if he repeatedly tests negative for HIV — this policy continues to ignore the science.
National Gay Blood Drive praised the move, in a statement, as a good first step — but one that is “still discriminatory” and “without medical or scientific reasoning.” The group said it will now begin “the final push to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation from the blood donation process altogether.”