The Food and Drug Administration published proposed guidelines Tuesday that would allow gay men to donate blood for the first time in 30 years, a move that follows a recommendation from an agency advisory committee late last year.
The draft of the guidelines states that a man should be barred from giving blood only for one year after he has had sex with another man. The FDA has banned blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man at any time since 1977.
An agency task force writes in the proposed guidelines that allowing gay men to donate after a one-year deferral would not diminish the safety of the blood supply and might significantly increase the pool of donors.
The task force considered a ban of less than one year, since tests can pick up the presence of HIV in blood much earlier than that, but decided to go with a period that has been adopted elsewhere in the world. Notably, it said in its report, the one-year ban has been studied and been proved effective at protecting the blood supply for many years in Australia.
Gay rights groups argued that the one-year ban would still unfairly exclude any gay man who regularly has sex.
“While the new policy is a step in the right direction toward an ideal policy that reflects the best scientific research, it still falls far short of a fully acceptable solution because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men,” David Stacy of the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement.
The American Medical Association, however, quickly expressed support for the FDA’s proposal, calling it “a step in the right direction.”
Louis Katz, chief medical officer at America’s Blood Centers — one of the country’s three major blood collectors, along with the American Red Cross and AABB — welcomed the proposed guidelines. “We’ve been asking for that for more than a decade,” he said.
The draft will be finalized after a 60-day period for public comment, said FDA spokeswoman Tara Goodin.
For America’s Blood Centers, the change will require a major adjustment to the computer infrastructure the organization uses to log blood donations. Katz predicted that gay men would be able to start giving blood at the organization’s centers within a year of the FDA’s finalizing its guidelines.
The American Red Cross and AABB said in a joint statement with America’s Blood Centers that they support a change from a lifetime ban to a one-year deferral and that their centers would follow the final guidelines, after some time to make changes to their systems.
The document published Tuesday estimates that 7 percent of U.S. men have had sex with men but that only 4 percent have done so in the past five years.
The FDA task force also found that a significant number of gay men already are donating blood, in violation of the existing guidelines. About 2.6 percent of male blood donors have had sex with other men, the task force learned through a survey — a significant increase from the number identified in past surveys, meaning the lifetime ban might be becoming less effective at deterring banned donors, the document said.
The researchers who conducted the survey contacted 83 men who had had sex with men but donated blood anyway. Half of them said they would be willing to abide by the new one-year deferral rule, the report said.
The task force did not believe that allowing men in monogamous relationships with other men to donate blood, without abstaining from gay sex for a year, would sufficiently prevent HIV-infected men from donating blood.
It goes on to point out that condoms fail in 1 or 2 in every 100 instances of anal sex — and that monogamous relationships have a far higher failure rate.
In gay male couples and straight couples alike, the rate of infidelity is about 25 percent, the report asserts.