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FDA considers allowing gay men to donate blood

Posted at 9:25 PM, Dec 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-03 07:33:04-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Food and Drug Administration may end its long-standing 1983 policy that bans men who have had sex with other men from donating blood, as long as the sex did not happen in the 12 months prior to donation.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Bill Harrison, the Executive Director of the Gay Community Center of Richmond, said.

The FDA’s Blood Products Advisory Committee met Tuesday to discuss and to hear scientific data related to reconsideration of the current blood donor deferral policy for men who have had sex with another man.

Gay men were first banned from donating during the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, when many gay men were contracting the virus.

Harrison said the current ban made sense in the past to protect the blood supply, but times have changed.

“All the blood is tested, and gay men who are in monogamous relationships are no more at risk of contracting HIV than a heterosexual couple that’s in a monagomous relationship,” Harrison said.

Benjamin Duke, who donates blood every 56 days, said not everyone is as generous with their blood as he is, and hospitals desperately need blood.

Therefore, he supports the possible change.

“I know people who would definitely be willing to donate, but are excluded by this rule,” Duke said.

The American Red Cross released a statement Tuesday saying they support the proposed changes and feel the current ban is medically and scientifically unwarranted.

Here is the full statement from the American Red Cross:

The top priorities of the blood banking community are the safety of our volunteer blood donors and the ultimate recipients of blood. As one measure to promote blood safety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets minimum blood donation eligibility criteria in the United States. AABB, America’s Blood Centers and the American Red Cross support the recommendation that the FDA amend the current indefinite deferral of MSM to a 12-month deferral. This change in policy would align the donor deferral period for MSM with criteria for other activities that may pose a similar risk of transfusion transmissible infections.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability recommendation to change the current deferral criteria for prospective male blood donors who have had sexual contact with another male (MSM) is consistent with our joint position.

We believe the current FDA indefinite blood donation deferral for a man who has sex with another man since 1977 is medically and scientifically unwarranted. The blood banking community strongly supports the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among blood donors who engage in similar risk activities.

Our organizations also support the advisory committee's recommendations for sustainable monitoring of changes in blood safety following implementation of a new deferral policy.

We believe all potential donors should be treated with fairness, equality and respect, and that accurate donor histories.