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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Muri Assunção

FDA moves to ease limits on gay, bisexual men donating blood

The Food and Drug Administration announced Friday a proposal to ease restrictions on blood donation by gay and bisexual men. The move was celebrated by LGBTQ rights advocates as “a tremendous leap forward toward elevating science over stigma.”

The draft recommendations would eliminate a rule advocates call discriminatory that allows men who have sex with men to donate blood only after a period of three months after their last sexual encounter.

Instead, the new blood screening process would focus on the behavior of all potential donors, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

Prospective donors who report not having “new or multiple sexual partners, and anal sex in the past three months, may be eligible to donate, provided all other eligibility criteria are met,” according to the FDA.

Based on data from other countries with similar HIV epidemiology as well as ongoing surveillance of the blood supply in the U.S., the agency says the policy change should not “compromise the safety or availability of the blood supply.”

Friday’s announcement follows years of campaigning by LGBTQ rights advocates, including media advocacy group GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.

“These changes are 40-plus years in the making,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD told the Daily News in a statement. “The announcement today will ease historic discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, help alleviate the national blood shortage, and opens the door for all eligible LGBTQ people to give blood and save lives.”

Leading medical organizations in the U.S. — including the American Red Cross, the American Public Health Association and the American Medical Association — have spoken out against the FDA’s policies. Experts agree that categorical restrictions based on a donor’s sexual orientation are not in line with science and are “detrimental to public health.”

The restriction got its start in 1983 during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. It was put in place as an emergency measure to prevent contamination since the incidence of the virus disproportionately affected gay and bisexual men.

The ban was lifted in 2015, but gay and bisexual men were required to abstain from sex for one year before becoming eligible to donate. In 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic led to a critical shortage of blood supply, the FDA reduced its abstinence requirement to three months.

HRC President Kelley Robinson hailed Friday’s announcement as “an important first step toward dismantling an antiquated and discriminatory blood donation policy” — though she also noted there’s “much more that needs to be done.”

“We urge the Biden administration to prioritize removing remaining barriers and ask the FDA to move expeditiously while ensuring the safety of the blood supply and a blood donation policy in-line with the science,” she said.

The proposal will be open for public comment for 60 days, after which the agency will review and consider all comments before finalizing the guidance.


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