FDA Plans To Allow Some Gay Men To Donate Blood

The FDA’s decision is a notable shift from the bans on blood donations from gay men that began during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

The Food and Drug Administration will ease its restrictions on blood donations and allow gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships to donate blood without the condition that they abstain from sex.

The proposal, announced on Friday, represents a notable shift from the prior lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men. That ban stemmed from the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, when gay men were reported to have higher rates of HIV infections since the virus spread more easily in smaller sexual networks and during anal sex, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the plan to ease restrictions. The FDA justified the ban as necessary to ensure the safety of the donated blood supply in the U.S.

But the rule was strongly criticized over the years by blood banks and LGBTQ organizations, which claimed it was homophobic and outdated. These groups have put pressure on the FDA to lift the restriction.

“Maintaining a safe and adequate supply of blood and blood products in the U.S. is paramount for the FDA, and this proposal for an individual risk assessment, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, will enable us to continue using the best science to do so,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf in a press release.

The new policy, which was reported by The Wall Street Journal to be under consideration in November, would focus more on individual risk through questionnaires as a way to reduce the risk of HIV transmission in blood donations rather than on blanket assessments. Prospective donors will be barred from donating if they’ve had anal intercourse with a new partner in the last three months, according to CNN.

The proposed policy change comes a year after the U.S. faced what the Red Cross described as “its worst blood shortage in over a decade.” During this time, the FDA faced increased pressure and criticism surrounding its restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

In 2015, the FDA ditched the 1983 lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men and instead adopted a one-year abstinence rule (which still was criticized for being discriminatory). This policy remained in place until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when the FDA reduced the abstinence period from a year to three months.

“While today’s announcement is a victory, it’s not the end of the road; there is much more that needs to be done, and 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,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said in a statement Thursday.

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