Activists react to move to ease ban on blood donations from gay men

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials are closer to overturning a 31-year-old ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, but activists say the proposed alternative would continue to stigmatize men who have sex with men. The agency said Tuesday it will recommend lifting the lifetime ban early next year, replacing it with a policy barring donations from men who have had sex with another man in the previous 12 months. But activists questioned whether requiring a year of celibacy from gay men amounted to a significant policy shift.

Some may believe this is a step forward, but in reality, requiring celibacy for a year is a de facto lifetime ban.

Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New York-based non-profit that supports AIDS prevention and care

The blanket ban dates from the early years of the AIDS crisis and was intended to protect the blood supply from what was a then little-understood disease. But many medical groups, including the American Medical Association, say the policy is no longer supported by science. Australia, Japan, the U.K. and many other countries previously moved to a one-year period. The agency will recommend the switch in draft guidelines early next year and move to finalize them after taking comments from the public. All U.S. blood donations are screened for HIV but the testing only detects the virus after it’s been in the bloodstream about 10 days.

We’re committed to re-evaluating the blood donor deferral policy in the future as new scientific evidence becomes available, but at this time we simply don’t have the evidence.

FDA Deputy Director Dr. Peter Marks