On Monday, December 21, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they had lifted the ban on blood donations from gay men, reversing a three-decade-old ban on gay and bisexual men being allowed to donate blood.
While the ban has been lifted, there are still some requirements that homosexual men must meet before they can head to the blood bank. In order for them to be able to donate, they muse refrain from having sexual intercourse with another man for a full year.
“The FDA’s responsibility is to maintain a high level of blood product safety for people whose lives depend on it,” FDA Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff said in a news release on Monday. “We have taken great care to ensure this policy revision is backed by sound science and continues to protect our blood supply.”
Why the 12-month waiting period? Dr. Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA’s biologics division, explained that the decision to have men refrain from having sex with other men for 12 months came from their scientific research and data from other countries, which showed no change in risk to the blood with the use of the 12-month process. Canada has already modified their policy to a five-year deferral policy, while the United Kingdom and Australia have a one-year deferral policy, and South Africa has a six-month deferral policy.
Why the FDA chose a 12-month deferral period in its new blood donation policy https://t.co/cZFJVL0Xhf
— Mashable (@mashable) December 22, 2015
“The 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time,” Dr. Marks said. “Published studies document no change in risk to the blood supply with use of the 12-month deferral. As we recommend these changes, we are reaffirming a commitment to further progressing blood donor deferral policies as new scientific information becomes available.”
The FDA first banned gay men from donating blood in 1983 at the start of the AIDS epidemic when scientists knew very little about the disease and how it was spread. Kelsey Louie is the CEO for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which is the United State’s leading provider of HIV and AIDS care. According to CNN, Louie appreciated the FDA lifting the ban based on scientific evidence and not singling out a certain group of people.
“The United States government has to stop reacting to HIV like it is the early 1980s,” Louie said. “It is time for the FDA to implement a policy that is truly based on science, not blanket bans on certain groups of people.”
While many gay activists have applauded the reversal of the ban, many are concerned that HIV-infected donors could slip through the screening process, ultimately infecting other people.
“There are several highly disturbing aspects to this politically-motivated change in the United States’ blood donation policy,” Peter LaBarbera, the president of the Americans for Truth, told Life Site. “First of all, homosexual activists frame this entire issue in terms of so-called ‘anti-gay discrimination’ and equality, instead of prioritizing above all the safety of the American blood supply.”
“Secondly,” LaBarbera added, “the FDA’s report shows that a small percentage of homosexual men have ignored the blood donation ban. Now we are going to trust practicing homosexuals with an even looser regulation? Thirdly, the FDA report shows that the new standards are more lax than Australia’s policy — which threatens violators with prosecution if they are found to have lied about their behavior in making their blood donation — even though Australia was cited as the model for the U.S. making the change.”
— The Hill (@thehill) December 21, 2015
“It is sad, yet instructive to see homosexual activists place their gay agenda above the blood safety interests of the American people,” LaBarbera concluded. “If just one person contracts HIV due to these more lax standards, that will be an outrageous and needless injustice.”
Despite LaBarbera’s beliefs, the AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks), America’s Blood Centers and the American Red Cross issued a statement in 2006 saying that the ban on homosexual men donating blood was “medically and scientifically unwarranted.” The groups also requested that the FDA modify their donation policy so that it is “comparable with criteria for other groups at increased risk of sexual transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections.” The FDA first proposed the ban lift in December 2014. In May, they received approximately 700 comments on the proposed lift of the ban, with more than half stating that the policy should remain the way it was.
The Human Rights Campaign is calling the FDA’s decision a “step in the right direction” but says it still puts a stigma on gay and bisexual men. In addition to reversing the ban, the FDA also suggested several other changes, including the implementation of “donor educational materials, donor history questionnaires and accompanying materials, as well as donor requalification and product management procedures.” The FDA said its current policies have helped reduce the transmission of HIV from blood transfusions from one in 2,500 to one in 1.47 million.
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