Better late than never, eh, FDA? On Tuesday, the FDA effectively lifted the ban on gay men giving blood that's been in place since 1982, prohibiting any man who's had sex with another guy since 1977 from ever giving blood — and it's a rule that never really made sense. The ban was initially enacted as a knee-jerk response to the AIDS epidemic, but blood banks now screen for HIV/AIDS, and other demographics considered at risk haven't seen any such ban. Health and Human Services recommended that the ban be lifted earlier this year, and John Kerry wrote an open letter calling for the same thing, but until now — nada.
In a statement proposing the change, the FDA said:
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, including the results of several recently completed scientific studies and recent epidemiologic data. Following this review, and taking into account the recommendations of advisory committees to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 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.
This doesn't mean that gay men will be able to give blood without restrictions. Like many other developed countries (Canada, Britain, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand — who, it must be said, adopted this policy a while ago), there's a one-year period after unprotected sex in which a gay man won't be able to give blood.
HIV can take a while to show up in blood screening, so if there's a chance that you might have contracted it within that time period, you'll be asked to return a few months later with a clean bill of health. Regardless, the new policy is light years away from the last in terms of being progressive (also, you know, logical).
It's worth pointing out that not just gay men have been affected by this ban — any man who's had unprotected sex with another man, even just once, cannot at this time donate blood, whether gay, straight, bisexual, or otherwise. Coming on the heels of a watershed year for LGBT rights, it's yet another equal-rights victory that comes late, but should still be celebrated.
There is a catch: Men who have had sex with men won't be able to donate blood until late 2015, when the proposal will likely become policy (given, of course, that the donor haven't had unprotected sex in a year). When it happens, it's anticipated to raise the national blood supply by four percent, according to the New York Times. Given that the national blood supply tends to run low during holidays, blood banks unfortunately won't be helped by the change in policy this Christmas — but two years' from now, the progress should be perceptible.
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