December 23, 2014 at 2:58 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
FDA to require one-year abstinence for gay blood donors

Tammy Baldwin, Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Wisconsin, gay news, Washington Blade

‘I remain concerned that [the new policy] does not achieve our goal of putting in place a policy that is based on sound science,’ said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday that it is taking steps to end its longstanding lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men.

But in a decision that has raised objections from LGBT advocacy organizations, the FDA says it wants to replace the lifetime ban with a requirement that men who have sex with men abstain from any sexual relations for one year before being allowed to donate blood.

“Over the past several years, in collaboration with other government agencies, the FDA has carefully examined and considered the available scientific evidence relevant to its blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg in a statement released on Dec. 23.

“Following this review, and taking into account the recommendations of advisory committees to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA, the agency will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men from indefinite deferral to one year since the last sexual contact,” Hamburg said.

Meanwhile, the FDA has already “taken steps to implement a national blood surveillance system that will help the agency monitor the effect of a policy change and further help to ensure the continued safety of the blood supply,” Hamburg said.

She said that under FDA rules, the FDA will issue a draft guidance recommending the proposed policy change sometime in 2015. She said the public would have an opportunity to comment on the proposal before a final decision is made to put it into effect.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), who last week led more than 75 members of Congress in calling on the government to end the lifetime ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men, said in a statement on Tuesday that the proposed change by the FDA was a step in the right direction.

“While this announcement represents needed progress, I remain concerned that it does not achieve our goal of putting in place a policy that is based on sound science and allows all healthy individuals to donate,” Baldwin said.

“The Administration must continue to work toward implementing blood donation policies based on individual risk factors instead of singling out one group of people and turning away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages,” Baldwin said.

The Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New York-based health organization that has provided AIDS-related services to gay men since the early years of the epidemic, called the FDA proposal “offensive and harmful.”

“Today the FDA finally announced that gay and bisexual men may finally be allowed to donate blood – but only if they are celibate for one year, regardless of their risk for HIV,” GMHC said in a statement.

“However, this new policy does not require heterosexual blood donors to be celibate for one year,” the statement says. “Some may believe this is a step forward, but in reality, requiring celibacy for a year is a de facto lifetime ban.”

The LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal said in a statement that while the FDA’s latest action on gay and bi blood donations was a step in the right direction, the group suggested the FDA should lower its donation deferral period from one year to two months.

“Within 45 days of exposure, currently required blood donation testing detects all known serious blood-borne pathogens, including HIV,” said Lambda’s legal director Scott Schoettes. “Therefore a deferral of more than two months – for anyone – is not necessary and does not noticeably enhance the safety of the blood supply,” he said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Not only does the FDA's proposed new policy on blood donations by gay and bisexual men continues to discriminate against them, but even worse than the lifetime ban it seeks to replace, the proposed new policy is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

    The government has no constitutional right to require gay and bisexual men — or any other consenting adults, for that matter — to refrain from having sex without clear evidence that their health status poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others.

    To say nothing of the government continuing to arbitrarily discriminate against gay and bisexual men who consistently test HIV-negative.

    I'd rather see the government require that all blood donations be screened for HIV before the donated blood can be used. Any and all donated blood that is found to contain HIV or HIV antibodies should be immediately discarded.

  • If abstinent for a year is ok, then shouldn't monogamous for a year be ok? I mean, in the end, we're just taking the donor's word, so why not trust a monogamous couple as much as the person who has been celibate?

  • I believe that is the case, isn't it, that all blood donations are tested for HIV?

  • Yeah, fine. Don't do me any favors.

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