How Rules May Loosen for Gay Blood Donors

PHOTO: Blood Donation Rules May Change For Gays Getty Images
Blood donation rules may change for gays.

A ban that has prohibited gay men from donating blood in the United States may be loosened after more than three decades, although not enough to totally satisfy all gay rights activists.

The Department of Health and Human Service’s Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability recommended Thursday changing the policy that bans men who have had sex with other men since 1977 from donating blood.

The committee voted 16 to 2 to recommend allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they have abstained from sex with men for at least one year.

Gay and bisexual men have been banned from donating blood by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 1983 after doctors realized the AIDS virus could be transmitted through blood transfusions.

The news was cheered by major blood banks and transfusion medicine associations including the American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers and AABB, a nonprofit representing institutions and individuals in the transfusion medicine field.

In a joint statement, the three organizations said the ban is “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”

“We believe all potential donors should be treated with fairness, equality and respect,” a portion of the statement said. “And that accurate donor histories and medically supported donor deferral criteria are critical to the continued safety of blood transfusion.”

The recommendations by the Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability will be presented at the FDA’s Blood Products Advisory Committee Dec. 2, which will discuss making changes to the policy.

The new recommendations come after years of mounting pressure from both medical groups and gay rights groups criticizing the ban as being outdated and focused too much on sexual orientation rather than actual risk.

The American Medical Association voted last year to oppose the FDA ban and recommended evaluating gay men on an individual level for blood donors rather than lumping them together in high-risk category.

"The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science," AMA board member Dr. William Kobler said in a statement at the time.

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor, said even if these new screening rules are approved, they are still problematic.

“While this represents a change in how donors are currently screened, it still strikes me as discriminatory and not based on risk,” Besser said. “Why should gay men who are not engaging in high-risk sexual activities be forbidden from donating blood? Prospective donors should be screened for risky behavior, not sexual orientation.”

Ryan Yezak, the founder of the National Gay Blood Drive, which has fought the ban with annual protests since 2013, said he was heartened by the changes but said there was more work to do.

“I think yesterday’s voting in favor of a one year deferral instead of lifetime ban is a huge step in the right direction,” Yezak said. “Our whole goal is eliminating sexual orientation from the blood donation process altogether.”