The Food and Drug Administration lifted its lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood Monday, but many gay men will still be barred.
The new policy says that any man who wants to give blood can only do so if he hasn’t had sex with another man in the past year. In other words, sexually active gay men who are married or in a monogamous relationship will still be prohibited from donating.
Men who have had sex with other men, even just once, have been banned from giving blood since 1985, near the start of the AIDS epidemic. The New York Times noted last year that "restrictions on donors were written when H.I.V. testing was slower and less refined. Today, some tests can detect the virus in blood as little as nine days after infection."
Advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community praised the FDA earlier this year when it first put forward its recommendations — but they also said the agency needed to go further.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the first openly gay senator in U.S. history and an advocate for blood-donation policy reform, called the new rules "a first step" in a May statement to The Huffington Post.
"I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration and stakeholders to implement this first phase swiftly so we can soon achieve our ultimate goal of blood donation policies that are based on individual risk factors, that don’t unfairly single out one group of individuals, and that allow all healthy Americans to donate," Baldwin said in May, when the FDA formally proposed the new policy.
Dr. Peter Marks, the deputy director of the FDA’s biologics division, defended the 12-month waiting period this week, saying it is "supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the U.S. population."
The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, which studies lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, has calculated the number of men who would likely donate and the pints of blood that would become available under three scenarios: a complete end to the ban, a 12-month deferral and a five-year deferral.
According to the institute’s calculations, ending the ban entirely on blood donation for men who have sex with men would result in about twice as many pints of blood being donated per year as under the current policy.
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