WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will move to loosen its restrictions on blood donations from homosexual men, provided that they are abstinent from sexual activity for at least one year.
“The agency will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men from indefinite deferral to one year since the last sexual contact,” FDA Director Margaret Hamburg wrote in a statement on Tuesday.
She said that the decision was made after reviewing scientific evidence over a period of several years in conjunction with other governmental agencies regarding its current policy to ban men who have sexual relations with other men from donating blood.
While the department still prohibits men who are sexually active with those of the same gender from giving blood, it plans to soften its lifetime ban, and allow those who have remained abstinent for at least a year to donate. Heterosexuals who are involved in prostitution, those who have had sex with a prostitute, or those involved in illicit drug activity are also included in the ban.
The FDA first enacted its policy in 1983 during the height of the AIDS crisis, but some have decried the ban as being discriminatory toward homosexuals. The organization Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) issued a press release on Tuesday stating that they remained in opposition to the policy despite the loosened restrictions.
“Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) believes the new policy announced by the FDA related to gay and bisexual men donating blood is offensive and harmful,” it wrote. “[T]his new policy does not require heterosexual blood donors to be celibate for one year. Some may believe this is a step forward, but in reality, requiring celibacy for a year is a de facto lifetime ban.”
But the FDA says that its mission is to ensure the safety of the blood supply, and will continue working with other governmental agencies as it moves forward with its proposal.
“This recommended change is consistent with the recommendation of an independent expert advisory panel the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability, and will better align the deferral period with that of other men and women at increased risk for HIV infection,” Hamburg stated.
“Additionally, in collaboration with the NIH’s National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the FDA has already taken steps to implement a national blood surveillance system that will help the agency monitor the effect of a policy change and further help to ensure the continued safety of the blood supply,” she added.
The department plans on issuing a memo next year providing guidance on how to implement the proposal, but will also provide a period for public comment before the policy change is finalized.
“We encourage all stakeholders to take this opportunity to provide any information the agency should consider, and look forward to receiving and reviewing these comments,” Hamburg said.