December 23, 2014

Celebrate Progress: FDA lifts Ban on Gay Blood Donors!

WikiMedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giving_Donating_Blood_Draw_iv_8285636227_o.jpg

Today, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it will no longer prohibit blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

This is a huge deal, as the FDA has banned donations from homosexual men since 1983!

I’ve written about this before: This ban originally occurred, because in the 80s, there were some folks who received blood transfusions who later started showing symptoms of AIDS. Some blood donors must have been HIV positive, for this to occur.

At the time, there was no way to test blood or plasma for HIV, and so the FDA opted to ban sexually active gay men from donating blood, since that community was the most likely to spread the HIV virus.

A few years later, HIV testing became available, but tests couldn’t detect the infection if it was new. Additionally, it could take months before one received positive or negative results. So at the time, this appeared to be the best way to protect the blood supply from infection.

The thing is, while this was the most logical course of action at the time, the science behind testing for the virus has come a long way over the past 30 years!

There is now an FDA approved test that can yield results in 20 to 40 minutes! And these new tests have been cited as extremely accurate.

However, despite this new technology, the FDA had refused to lift the ban on men who fell into the category of MSM (men who have had sex with men).

Why? It appeared to be outright discrimination! You see, if a person is treated for a venereal disease, they are deferred from donating for just one year.

This is also the case for someone who has sex with a prostitute—that person will be deferred from donating for a year, but after those 12 months pass, it’s all good.

Yet gay men continued to be restricted from donating. Even those who were in committed relationships with only one partner!

It’s like the FDA was simply assuming: Homosexual men are promiscuous and are likely to contract HIV.

This is just not a blanket assumption we can make about people!

Man or woman, gay or straight—what should be examined is the person’s sexual practices. (And purely for the sake of disease control!)

Is the potential donor promiscuous? Do they have unprotected sex with several partners? Or are they in a dedicated, monogamous relationship with one partner?

The FDA’s unwillingness to change their policies, based on a person’s sexual preference, has been an ongoing controversy. After all, if someone is healthy, willing and able to donate blood, then shouldn’t they be allowed to do so?

Finally, the FDA has taken action to change this!

Per the New York Times:

In a statement, the agency said it had “carefully examined and considered the scientific evidence” before changing the policy. It said it intended to issue a draft guidance detailing the change in 2015.

The shift puts the United States on par with European countries like Britain, which adjusted its lifetime ban in favor of a 12-month restriction in 2011.

“This is a major victory for gay civil rights,” said I. Glenn Cohen, a law professor at Harvard University who specializes in bioethics and health. “We’re leaving behind the old view that every gay man is a potential infection source.”

This change will help to increase our country’s blood supply. It will also prevent gay men from being turned away, when they selflessly want to donate blood and help people.

Progress is (finally) being made! Let’s celebrate that!


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Author: Yoli Ramazzina

Editor: Renee Picard 

Photo: WikiMedia Commons, via Tony Webster

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