The Food and Drug Administration will recommend that men who have sex with men (i.e. gay men) be allowed to donate blood. Without question, this is good news. But only up to a point. Instead of the lifetime ban that has been in place since 1983, the so-called deferral period is now one year. In other words, if you are a man who has had sexual contact with another man in the past 12 months, you still can’t give blood. This change would put the United States’ policy on par with policy in Australia, Japan and Great Britain.
As I wrote earlier this month when an FDA advisory panel met to discuss this rule change, the good folks at the AIDS Institute made a recommendation worth considering. “The US blood donation policy should not be based on sexual orientation,” the group wrote in a letter to the FDA, “but rather level of risk.” Considering all donations undergo two separate tests, this isn’t an unreasonable position. Besides, it makes no sense that a man in a monogamous relationship for, say, five years is prevented from donating blood while a heterosexual man or woman who routinely engages in unprotected sex faces no restriction on blood donation at all.
Perhaps that commonsense solution will be adopted in the future. In the meantime, what the FDA recommends now is a far cry better than the antiquated 31-year-old policy it seeks to replace.
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