The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Monday it is ending its 30-year ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
Under the revised rule, men who have sex with men (MSM) will be allowed to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man in the past year. The old policy barred any man who had sex with another man even once since 1977. The ban was enacted in the mid-1980s, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, when HIV spread through donated blood infected thousands. Gay men have far higher rates of HIV infection than other demographics, accounting for about 57 percent of HIV cases despite only being 2 percent of the population.
The new policy matches those of several other countries, including the United Kingdom, Finland, and Japan. On the other hand, many countries maintain a policy of indefinitely barring MSM from donating blood, including Germany, Norway, and Israel.
Gay rights activists have argued the restriction is unjustified and grounded in homophobic prejudice, especially because all donated blood is now tested for HIV. Thanks to testing and other policies, the risk of acquiring HIV from a blood transfusion dropped from one in 2,500 to about one in 1.47 million. Activists were supported by groups like the American Red Cross, which since 2006 has argued the lifetime ban is not medically warranted.
Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest gay-rights group, praised the FDA’s move but wants it to go further, totally eliminating all restrictions on gay blood donations.
“It continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men,” HRC spokesman David Stacy told The Associated Press. “It simply cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology.”
The FDA had defended the policy, pointing out that even with current screening technology, those newly infected with HIV may not test positive for several weeks. In Monday’s announcement, though, the agency said the example of other countries like Australia indicated the looser policy would not endanger the country’s blood supply.
Regardless of what policy the FDA has, blood donation has always worked on an honor system, meaning gay men could donate blood if they wanted to by lying on blood donor forms.
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