The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced this morning (Tuesday, December 23) that it’s changing its policy on gay and by men donating blood from an outright ban to a one-year waiting period since “the last sexual contact.” Many LGBTs have been pushing for years for the FDA to completely drop the ban.
“Over the past several years, in collaboration with other government agencies, the FDA has carefully examined and considered the available scientific evidence relevant to its blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men, including the results of several recently completed scientific studies and recent epidemiologic data,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a news release. “Following this review, and taking 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.”
Hamburg said her agency plans to release a draft guidance recommending the change in 2015, which will include a chance for the public to comment.
Some groups have expressed disappointment that the ban hasn’t been completely eliminated.
In October, the LGBT lobbying group Equality California launched “Every Drop Counts,” a campaign to urge the Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA to end the ban.
“We’re extremely disappointed with the FDA’s announcement today, which does not represent real reform based on modern science and risk factors,” EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur said in a statement. “Instead, this proposed policy change appears to be mere window dressing designed to pacify the LGBT community and other policy critics without implementing any real change. The reality is that this revised policy would continue to discriminate against gay and bisexual men with low risk factors based on their sexual orientation and would continue to unnecessarily prevent countless gay and bisexual men from making life-saving donations to the nation’s blood supply.”
EQCA said it would continue to mobilize LGBTs to call on the federal agencies to end the ban.
David Stacy, government affairs director for the national Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the change “falls far short of an acceptable solution because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men … . This new policy cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology.”
EQCA will continue to mobilize the LGBT community to call on the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to take action to end this discriminatory ban.
Scott Schoettes, senior attorney and HIV Project director for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, called the revision “a step in the right direction,” but said in a statement that “blood donation policy should be based on current scientific knowledge and experience, not unfounded fear, generalizations and stereotypes. Merely changing the parameters of this outdated policy does not alter its underlying discriminatory nature, eliminate its negative and stigmatizing effects, nor transform it into a policy based on current scientific and medical knowledge.”
Schoettes said the American Red Cross, the American Medical Association, and other groups have supported ending the total prohibition.
According to UCLA’s Williams Institute news release, “Based on current rates of donation, 185,800 individuals would likely donate an estimated 317,000 additional pints each year. Our estimates suggest that modifying the current blood donation policy among [gay and bi men] to a 12 month deferral could be used to help save the lives of over 950,000 people.” Additionally, if the current ban was eliminated, estimated donations “would nearly double the figures cited for a 12 month deferral and could be used to help save the lives of over 1.8 million people.”