Since the 1980s, the Food and Drug Administration has imposed a lifetime ban on donating blood for gay and bisexual men. But that’s about to change—kind of. Yesterday, the agency announced that it will lift the lifetime ban and instead only allow men who have not had sexual contact with another man in the last 12 months to donate blood.
The policy change finalizes a recommendation the agency made last year. The ban was put into place in 1983 as the AIDS epidemic began. At the time, there was no existing blood test for HIV in either patients or blood donations.
Now, however, tests exist for both patients and donated blood, and many consider the restrictions to be long out of date. Gay rights organizations, medical groups like the American Medical Association and even a bipartisan Congressional group have long spoken out in favor of less restrictive blood donation policies, but the FDA resisted until it's recommendations made last year.
In its release, the FDA hails its policy as “supported by the best available scientific evidence” and says its priority is protecting the American blood supply. But critics call the new policy too restrictive. They point out that by refusing to allow men who have had sexual contact with other men within the last 12 months from donating blood, the policy acts as a de facto lifetime ban.
Congressman Jared Polis, who heads the congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, tells Reuters that “It is ridiculous and counter to the public health that a married gay man in a monogamous relationship can't give blood, but a promiscuous straight man who has had hundreds of opposite sex partners in the last year can.”
This new policy mirrors regulations in countries like France and England, which recently lifted lifetime bans. It remains to be seen whether the policy results in an increase in the American blood supply. According to the American Red Cross, less than ten percent of the eligible donor population in the United States gives blood each year.