iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In a major shift, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday that it will recommend changing the controversial policy that bans gay men from donating blood.
A statement released from FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the agency would recommend allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they have abstained from sex with men for at least one year.
Currently, men who have had sex with other men since 1977 are banned from ever donating blood in the U.S. The ban dates back to 1983 and was started after doctors realized the AIDS virus could be transmitted through blood transfusions.
The FDA decided to advise changing the policy after a number of epidemiologic studies showed no adverse effects on blood supply with a one-year deferral, according to Dr. Peter Marks, the deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
Marks estimated that half of the men who currently can’t donate blood due to the policy would become eligible to be blood donors.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the changed policy does not do enough to address discrimination.
“The FDA’s proposal must be seen as part of an ongoing process and not an end point,” ACLU Legislative Representative Ian Thompson said in a statement. “The reality for most gay and bisexual men — including those in committed, monogamous relationships — is that this proposal will continue to function as a de facto lifetime ban. Criteria for determining blood donor eligibility should be based on science, not outdated, discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions.”
In recent weeks, health organizations have increasingly pressured the FDA to recommend changing the policy.
Last month, the American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers and AABB, a non-profit representing institutions and individuals in transfusion medicine field, have supported ending the ban calling it “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”
In November, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability 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.
In an interview last month after Department of Health and Human Service’s announcement, 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…voting in favor of a one year deferral instead of lifetime ban is a huge step in the right direction,” Yezak told ABC in an earlier interview. “Our whole goal is eliminating sexual orientation from the blood donation process altogether.”
The policy will not change immediately, instead the FDA will issue the first draft guidance on the policy and then they will face a comment period before the policy change can be official. According to the American Red Cross, the risk of HIV in a unit of donated blood is 1 in 1.5 million donated units.
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