FDA Will Allow Gay Men to Donate Blood Under Amended Restrictions

Feature image via Vasin Lee/Shutterstock

After a confusing few weeks in which the Food and Drug Administration first appeared to consider trashing its decades-old policy prohibiting blood donation from men who have sex with men, then had a panel decline to rule on ending the practice, the agency announced today that the ban will be partially lifted in 2015. It will be replaced with a one-year ban — meaning any man who has had sex with another man cannot donate blood for a year afterward, even if they are in a monogamous relationship and definitely free of sexually transmitted diseases.

The New York Times reports that the change could increase the blood donation supply by two to four percent annually, according to research by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. The Institute has reported that lifting the planned one-year ban could double the potential new supply.

But even achieving that one-year ban seems to have been a struggle; the panel from last week made it clear they thought allowing MSM to donate at all presented a serious health concern. Despite urging from organizations like the American Medical Association, the Department of State Health Services and the American Red Cross, panel member Dr. Susan Leitman said the pressure to end the ban was “about policy and civil rights rather than our primary duty, which is transfusion safety.” But, as Audrey reported here a couple weeks ago, transfusion safety seems to have been the FDA’s flimsy excuse for locking a huge group of the population out over decades-old fears about HIV/AIDS — despite the fact that all donated blood is tested for the virus with methods infinitely more accurate than at the height of the AIDS crisis:

To make this as clear as possible: Straight people who have sex with an opposite sex partner who definitely has HIV only have to wait a year to give blood. Gay and bi men who have sex with a man at any point in their lives, even if their partner definitely didn’t have HIV, can never donate.

Some are hopeful that today’s announcement will lead to a complete disposal of the ban, especially given the ongoing blood shortage that has groups like the Red Cross constantly reminding people to consider donation. That group reports that every two seconds, someone in the U.S. requires a blood transfusion. Now, thanks to this long overdue change, the lifesaving supply will be a little bit bigger.

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Kaitlyn lives in New York, which is the simplest answer you're going to get if you ask her where she's from. She went to journalism school and is arguably making the most of her degree as a writer and copy editor. She utilizes her monthly cable bill by watching more competitive cooking shows than should be allowed.

Kaitlyn has written 69 articles for us.


      • They’re included under “Women who have sex with Men who have Sex with Men”, so they would have to wait a year after last sexual encounter to give blood.

        (Fun fact: If you’ve had money for sex since 1977, have injected not-under-a-prescription drugs at least once since 1977, or have received any sort of clotting factor, you’re not allowed to give blood in the USA permanently.)

    • Yeah, I’m bummed that the author failed to make any mention of how this ruling affects trans women, considering that trans women are part of this site’s target audience and cis men pretty much aren’t.

      (Or any mention of which men aren’t included in Red Cross/FDA’s definition of ‘man’.)

  1. “…especially given the ongoing blood shortage that has groups like the Red Cross constantly reminding people to consider donation.”

    Well, I would, except they don’t want my blood either. =(

  2. Well, one year is better than the five years that gay men have to wait in order to donate blood in Canada.

  3. This is pretty fucked up that gay monogamous couples who are married or have been in relationship for years, can’t donate blood. Do they think that gay couples cheat?

  4. The fact that straight people who have definitely been exposed to HIV can donate after a year makes this mandatory deferral, even for folks who are tested and whose partners are tested, just glaringly a double-standard.

  5. The fact that this is even sex-segregated makes no sense! It’s based on 70’s assumptions about what sex acts different kinds of people practice (anal sex vs. vaginal sex, for example).

    If they wanted to do a pre-filter of donators according to relative risk of different sexual behaviours (which is still unnecessary given the precision of disease screening now), they should go about excluding people according to their sexual exposures. It is glaringly obvious that a man who has anal sex with a woman and a man is just as likely to infect either partner.

    • The thing is, in real life they are not (on average) the same man. Gay and bisexual men already have a considerably higher HIV prevalence rate and because of that are at higher risk even given otherwise similar behaviours.

  6. Oh, also, I learned that this crap about blood donation also extends to organ and fluid donation (such as sperm). Given the organ shortage, in Canada at least, they can’t waste too many ”gay organs” – so they ask the receiver if they would accept ‘substandard’ organs. It’s crazy.

    • This summer I went through testing in Alberta, Canada to see if I was an organ donor match for my brother. Out of curiosity during my questioning I asked the transplant coordinator if “men who sleep with men” could donate organs and she said that she would let them donate since they do pretty rigourous testing of the blood and there is a terrible organ shortage. But I’m not 100% sure if this translates to cadaveric organ donation or outside of that particular program/particular coordinator, but I was impressed by her.

  7. What idiotic jackasses. What’s worse is this non-scientific idiocy in the FDA extends far beyond this particular subject.

  8. I remember being told the last time I tried to donate blood (and when I tried to sell my plasma) that “intent to have a ‘sex change operation'” results in indefinite ban, and actually having one results in a lifetime ban.

    They claimed this was based on Red Cross policy, but I can’t actually find this on the books anywhere; just goes to show you that the actual policy can mean fuck-all if it doesn’t say what they want.

    • I don’t buy it. What, they think my having SRS automatically infected me with HIV? How exactly would that happen. If what you were told were really the policy, it would be more restrictive than even the old policies applicable to gay men, and to cis women. Because I’ve never had sex with a man, let alone since 1977, let alone in the last year. Nor, so far as I know, have I had sex with women who’ve had sex with gay men.

  9. My family saw this change as a victory. However, I see it as a sign of an even harder fight to come. Now, legislators may say “hey, look, we addressed the issue of this outdated legislation. It’s been dealt with, move on already!” It’s as if lowering the amount of oppression justifies the presence of any oppression at all. This will be hard to fight.

    In the words of John Oliver, “If someone takes a dump on my desk, the size of the dump is not the issue.” The dump, in this case, being discriminatory laws surrounding blood donation.

    However, there is much to be said for a concept that Derrick Bell discusses. If you give the people even a hint of freedom, the rest of the oppression they face becomes clear, and this gives them the fire they need to rebel.

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