FDA proposes changes to blood donation restrictions: Equality for gay and bisexual men in sight

Edy Zoo

SILVER SPRING, MD. - The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced proposed changes to the nation's policy on blood donations, which could finally level the playing field for gay and bisexual men who have long been denied the right to donate.

The proposed policy would eliminate the current time-based restrictions on donations from men who have sex with men (and their female partners) and instead screen potential donors' eligibility based on a series of questions that assess their HIV risk, regardless of gender. 

Anyone taking medications to treat or prevent HIV, including PrEP (a drug used to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV), would not be eligible. Questions about anal sex in the last three months with a new sexual partner or more than one sexual partner would also be included in the screening process.

These changes aim to address criticisms that current policies are outdated and discriminatory and provide another avenue to bolster the nation's increasingly low blood supply. Blood banks already routinely screen donated blood for HIV.

"We are moving now to an inclusive policy for blood donation," said Dr. Peter Marks, head of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA, during a briefing earlier this month. He added that they will

work to make sure that we have policies that allow everyone who wants to donate blood to be able to do so within what the science allows us, so as to make sure that our blood supply remains safe."

Medical groups and LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations have praised the changes and blood banks across America. Kate Fry, CEO of America's Blood Centers, said,

the blood community is very excited about these proposed changes…we [have] advocated for a decade now for a move to an individual risk assessment model." 

She also noted that while all donated blood will continue to be carefully screened for HIV before being accepted into circulation, testing has dramatically improved over recent years, further ensuring its safety.

LGBTQ+ advocates say these changes represent an important first step but state there is still more progress needed to ensure full inclusion when it comes to donating blood, particularly regarding restrictions such as prohibiting people from donating while taking PrEP drugs, which are used preventatively against HIV infection. 

They claim this stigmatizes those being proactive in their sexual health choices or falsely assumes promiscuity which is categorically untrue, according to them Tony Morrison of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).

With public comments opening up this week and expected to run through April 2021, followed by review by the FDA before potentially issuing a final rule later this year, it will not be until 2023 at the earliest before monogamous gay men can once again in good conscience donate much-needed lifeblood once again!

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Edy Zoo is an author who writes about social subjects. He contributes to the ever-growing library of social critics. He approaches local social subjects and local news covering Auburn-Opelika and surrounding cities from an objective point of view. He also holds liberal views.

Auburn, AL

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