The FDA Lifts Its Ban On Blood Donations From Gay Men — With A Catch

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Today, the FDA announced that it will reverse its 32-year-old ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, which was implemented in response to the AIDS crisis and has been criticized for years by such organizations as the American Medical Association and Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC). But, there's a catch. Starting next year, gay and bisexual men will be able to donate blood if they first abstain from sex with men for at least 12 months.

So, this reversal marks only partial progress, according to gay rights advocates who point out that it's not who you are but what you do that determines your risk for HIV. "The FDA should update the Donor History Questionnaire so that all potential donors are screened for high-risk behavior, regardless of sexual orientation," argues GMHC. "Only prospective donors determined to be high-risk should be subject to deferral periods."

It's not only the rights of gay and bisexual men at stake in this debate, but also the lives that could be saved by a greater expansion of blood-donor eligibility. A report released last year by the UCLA Williams Institute estimated that lifting the ban on men who have sex with men would add 360,600 men to the blood-donor pool; together, they could donate 615,300 pints. Since each donation can be used to save three patients' lives, those 615,300 pints represent the ability to save 1.8 million lives per year. While the U.S. is not alone in its new 12-month deferral policy (the U.K. and Australia have the same), advocacy groups will continue to push for a policy that reflects potential donors' health risks, not their identities.

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