In a surprise move, America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to relax the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, but activists say it’s not good enough.
Last week, an FDA spokesperson said there were no plans for it to address the gay blood ban, despite calls for it to do so.
On Tuesday, however, the FDA announced that it will in fact recommend that blood donations from gay and bisexual men be allowed as long as they have been celibate for one year.
It said in a statement that after carefully examining and considering “the available scientific evidence relevant to its blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men,” the agency “will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men from indefinite deferral to one year since the last sexual contact.”
The 31-year-old ban was first put in place in 1983 in response to the HIV epidemic that devastated North America’s gay community.
The latest move was welcomed as a step in the right direction by gay rights groups, but they insisted that the one year deferral remains discriminatory and unnecessary.
“While this new policy is movement toward an optimal policy that reflects fundamental fairness and the best scientific research, it falls far short of an acceptable solution because it continues to stigmatise gay and bisexual men, preventing them from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation, rather than a policy based on actual risk to the blood supply,” said David Stacy, HRC’s Government Affairs Director.
“This new policy cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology. We will continue to work towards an eventual outcome that both minimises risk to the blood supply and treats gay and bisexual men with the respect they deserve.”
GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis commented that, “Stereotypes should have no place in saving lives.” She added: “While this proposed change is certainly historic, it would still mean that countless gay and bisexual men will be turned away from blood banks simply because of who they are.”
The FDA’s recommendation will be officially issued next year, after which it will accept public comment on the matter before making a final change in policy.
In September, a study found that by lifting the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood the US could save almost two million lives.
There is a one-year sexual activity blood donation deferral in place for gay men in Japan, Sweden and the UK. In South Africa, there is a deferral for anyone – gay or straight – who has had a new sexual partner in the previous six months.