On June 11th the Federal Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability refused to recommend a change in restrictions that would allow men who have sex with men (MSM) to donate blood. The review began after Senator John Kerry and seventeen of his colleagues sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking them to change their outdated policy. This is the third time since 2000 that the FDA has reviewed and retained the ban on donations from MSM.
Currently, if a man has had sex with another man even once since 1977 he is banned from donating blood for his entire lifetime. The only other people who are never allowed to donate are people who have sex for money, intravenous drug users, and people who have tested positive for HIV. People who have had heterosexual sex with someone they know to be HIV-positive or someone who has had sex with a commercial sex worker are prohibited from donating blood for one year.
The committee admitted that the current system is flawed “because it permits ‘some potentially high-risk donations while preventing some potentially low-risk donations.’” The committee recommended that health authorities create a system that accounts for individual behavior as opposed to generalizations about large groups of people. The committee’s recommendations, while encouraging, are not binding.
Both the American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks report that the current FDA ban on MSM blood donation ‘is medically and scientifically unwarranted (PDF). HIV-positive individuals are already excluded from donating by a pre-donation questionnaire. The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimated that if the ban on MSM blood donation were lifted, new donors “could increase the total annual US blood supply by 0.6% to 1.4%.While these increases in the blood supply may seem modest, they would occur in an environment where blood supply shortages are common.”
The current FDA ban on MSM donating blood is not only discriminatory and rife with outdated myths about most gay men’s HIV status, it prevents healthy blood from entering the system to boot. We will keep you updated about any future reviews or changes to this outdated policy.