The U.S. Food and Drug Administration made formal a previously announced policy revision that loosens the longstanding ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men, reports BuzzFeed.
According to the new guidance, published on the FDA’s website today, gay and bi men are now eligible to give blood — provided they have abstained from sex with another man for at least a year.
"The FDA’s responsibility is to maintain a high level of blood product safety for people whose lives depend on it," said the FDA’s Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, M.D., in a statement on the FDA’s website. "We have taken great care to ensure this policy revision is backed by sound science and continues to protect our blood supply."
But when draft guidance was first announced in May, critics were quick to argue that the revised policy is still stigmatizing to gay and bisexual men, as it implies that their blood is more likely to be HIV-positive, despite the fact that all donated blood is screened for HIV and other chronic illness and infectious diseases before it is accepted or used in transfusions.
"This new policy prevents men from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation rather than actual risk to the blood supply," said David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of government affairs in an emailed statement. "While it’s a step in the right direction toward an ideal policy that reflects the best scientific research, it still falls far short of a fully acceptable solution because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men. It simply cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology. 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."
Twitter recently announced that it was ending all company blood drives until the FDA updated its policy and allowed all those willing to donate blood without regard to their sexual orientation. Meanwhile, advocates have pointed to the recent liberalizing of blood donation policies in other nations, including November’s news that France will lift its ban on gay blood donors, while in Canada there is hope that the newly elected administration will follow suit, after Canada revised its own long-standing ban in 2013 to allow gay and bi men to give blood after five years of abstinence.
Since 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has barred all men who have ever had sex with another man — since 1977 — from donating blood, according to the FDA website. Because it does not have a system for recognizing trans women, the FDA still considers trans women who have sex with men to be part of the group of "men who have sex with men" who are barred from giving blood.
According to BuzzFeed, the new rule does address transgender donors, but offers little clarity for those hoping to see their gender identity affirmed in FDA-approved blood drives.
A "note" in the guidelines states that "FDA recommends that male or female gender be taken to be self-identified and self-reported," but does not offer additional guidance. Officials with the FDA did not immediately return The Advocate‘s request for clarification on this issue.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.