FDA moves to make it easier for gay, bisexual men to donate blood

Abstinence would no longer be a requirement under proposed guidelines

In its latest effort to deepen the pool of eligible blood donors, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration moved Friday to further ease restrictions on gay and bisexual men who want to give.

During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, many countries, including the United States, placed a lifetime ban on gay men being donors. The move was an attempt to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Gay rights groups opposed the blanket restrictions on who could give blood, saying they discriminate against the LGBTQ community, the Associated Press reported.

“Current and former blood donation policies made unfounded assumptions about gay and bisexual men and really entangled individuals’ identity with their likelihood of having HIV,” Sarah Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, told the AP.

The lifetime ban was replaced in 2015 with a requirement of abstinence for a full year before donation. The yearlong abstinence requirement was cut to three months in 2020.

The newest proposal would remove restrictions on many gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships. Instead of abstinence, they would be given a questionnaire about their risk for HIV “based on sexual behavior, recent partners and other factors,” the AP reported.

All donors are required to disclose their sexual history, any injectable drug use, and recent piercings and tattoos. Blood is then tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases.

The draft guidance would ask gay and bisexual men if they’ve engaged in anal sex with new or multiple partners in the past three months. Those who answer yes will have to wait until a later date to donate blood. The same rules would apply to women who have sex with bisexual men.

“Maintaining a safe and adequate supply of blood and blood products in the U.S. is paramount for the FDA, and this proposal for an individual risk assessment, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, will enable us to continue using the best science to do so,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said Friday.

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