Feds to Review Gay Blood-Donor Ban

Lyla Katz
ROCKVILLE, M.D. — A federal advisory committee has begun hearings to consider changing its long-standing policy banning men who have had sex with other men from giving blood.

SFGate.com reports the policy has been in place since the mid-‘80s and was intended to protect the blood supply from being tainted with the virus that causes AIDS.

Proponents say they are in favor of changing the rules because they say improved testing methods make the current standards seem outdated.

In addition, they say that screening techniques may not rule out other risky donors, making the ban singling out gay and bisexual men unfair.

"We recognize there's some inconsistency," said Dr. Kim-Anh Nguyen, medical director of Blood Centers of the Pacific, which provides blood and blood components to hospitals, doctors and patients in Northern California. "For instance, a woman who has sex with a man who's known to have AIDS will get a 12-month deferral and a man who's had sex - even once since 1977, would be deferred for life."

As a result, the American Association of Blood Banks and the American Red Cross have agreed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ban is unwarranted and recommend a one-year waiting period of abstinence by gay and bisexual men. Officials say the one-year waiting period offers enough time to screen out blood infected with HIV.

Political pressure has been mounting recently to revise the policy. This week, 34 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and nine U.S. senators called on the federal government to change what they call is the FDA’s discriminatory policy.

A letter written to the committee’s chairman said, "With the advances in medicine over the course of the last three decades, we encourage you to look beyond blanket deferrals and consider screening based on real high risk behavior so we can update our blood donation policies from their early 1980s origins.”

According to one study, the ban on men who have had sex with other men excludes nearly seven million men from donating blood and allowing a one-year waiting period would add about 90,000 pints of blood to the nation’s blood supply.

Once the federal advisory committee completes the hearings, it will then make recommendations to the secretary and the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA.