FDA Ends Ban on Blood Donations By Gay Men ... But There's A Catch

Illustration for article titled FDA Ends Ban on Blood Donations By Gay Men ... But There's A Catch

Talk about problematic progress. The AP headline crowing "US Moves to End Ban on Blood Donations by Gay Men" comes with a whopper of an asterisk: gay and bisexual men who wish to donate blood may do so only if they've refrained from having sex with another man for a full year prior.


This is a step up from the previous Food and Drug Administration blanket ban on donating at all, and it would "put the U.S. in line with other countries including Australia, Japan and the U.K.," but it's still controversial: "Activists, however, questioned whether requiring a year of celibacy from gay men in order to donate blood amounted to a significant policy shift."

One such activist is Slate columnist Mark Joseph Stern, who wrote:

This is, no doubt, a step forward. But it's a very small one. The one-year deferral policy is still rooted in an outdated, insulting vision of gay men as diseased, promiscuous lechers. A gay man in a decades-long monogamous relationship with his husband will be forbidden from donating blood. So, too, will any gay or bisexual man who consistently practices safe sex. Meanwhile, straight people who routinely have sex with multiple opposite-sex partners — or not they use condoms —face no deferral at all.

It's utterly illogical to forbid a monogamous gay man from donating while permitting promiscuous straight people to give as much blood as they want. But as we've learned over the last 31 years, there's very little reason behind the FDA's gay-related policies. The American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, the American Association of Blood Banks, and the American Medical Association have all moved on and now support scrapping the ban altogether.

Perhaps in another 31 years, we'll see the FDA move to a sensible, nondiscriminatory rule. For now, we're stuck with this embarrassing, unscientific half-measure.

Encouraging but frustrating baby steps, these.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.


What are the hard numbers? Could there be a reason for this decision?

I'm trying to be totally serious here. I don't believe that the statistics bear out the FDAs current policy but I'd like to see some real science and facts before I make a snap decision.

Is there currently a statistically significant difference in the infection rates of men who have been sexually active with other men vs other members of the population?

What is the detection rate of the diseases that the FDA is worried about? (I'm assuming HIV but it's not stated in the article)

If there is no statistical difference then the FDAs policy is shite.

If there is a statistical difference then the FDA might be in the right but only if the detection rate does not approach 100%.

If the detection rate is 100% the FDAs policy is shite even if disease rates are higher. (Yes, higher costs because of some lost blood. But, this would allow many who might not otherwise be tested to find out they are infected.)