The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday it plans to end the lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men.
Under the proposed rules (PDF), men would be able to donate blood provided they have not had sex with another man during the past 12 months, effectively lifting the indefinite ineligible status the agency imposed in 1985 in response to the AIDS epidemic.
In addition, the guidance states the gender of blood donors will be “self-identified and self-reported,” with the determination for eligibility up to the discretion of the medical director in cases where a donor has changed their gender identity.
The policy has long been a source of contention among gay rights activists, who argued that a lifetime ban was discriminatory and that it was not supported by scientific evidence. Several health organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, and the American Association of Blood Banks, have recommended lifting the indefinite ban after concluding that better screening and testing for HIV has rendered the policy outdated.
“The AMA fully supports and has been a strong advocate for eliminating these current public policies as we believe that the latest scientific evidence should dictate blood and tissue donation deferral periods to ensure the safety of the national blood supply,” AMA President Dr. Robert Wah said in a statement praising the FDA's new direction. “The AMA's policy supports using scientifically-based deferral periods that are consistently and fairly applied to donors based on their risk level.”
While same-sex civil rights advocates saw news of the policy shift as a step in the right direction, they said a 12 month delay from donating as the new approach still stigmatizes and discriminates against groups based on their sexual orientation.
“This policy prevents men from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation rather than actual risk to the blood supply—it simply cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology,” said David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Right Campaign, the country's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization. “We are committed to working towards an eventual outcome that both minimizes risk to the blood supply and treats gay and bisexual men with the respect they deserve.”
The FDA is accepting public comments on the policy change for next 30 days.
The agency contends the 12-month delay is based on evidence of a high prevalence of HIV infection among men who have sex with men.
Despite a a 33% drop in the number of new HIV cases that were diagnosed between 2002 and 2011 within the general population, the rate among gay and bisexual men between ages 13 and 24 rose by 132% during that same time period, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published last July in JAMA.