While the LGBTQ movement has gained traction in state and federal policies, efforts to strip the U.S. of its 31-year-old federal ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men are being challenged by federal health advisers. Blood safety experts on Tuesday cautioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about changing the current policy, according to the Associated Press. The FDA’s policy, barring blood donations from men who have had sex with another man at any time since 1977, was introduced in 1983 to protect the national blood supply from HIV exposure, at a time when the virus was widely misunderstood and spreading rapidly.
The FDA’s Blood Products Advisory Committee agreed that superior screening technology is needed but didn’t recommend limiting the ban, according to Reuters. All donated blood must be screened to ensure the safety of the supply. The current test for HIV can only detect the virus about 10 days after infection. HIV is transmitted through infected bodily fluids, killing certain cells in the immune system. HIV infection can lead to AIDS when a number of cells have been destroyed and the body can no longer fight off infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An advisory committee for the Department of Health and Human Services voted overwhelmingly in favor of scrapping the lifetime ban last month. The experts said advances in HIV/AIDS research indicate transfusion safety would not be jeopardized by revising the policy and proposed a one-year deferral period instead, which would bar male donors who have had sex with men in the last 12 months. The Red Cross, the American Medical Association of Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers have all dubbed the ban “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”
A study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimated that if the ban was lifted, 360,600 men would likely donate 615,300 additional pints of blood per year, which in turn could help 1.8 million people.
Gay rights advocates argue current donor standards are discriminatory and disseminate stigmas against gay and bisexual men. Caleb Liaeski, a young LGBTQ activist, filed a federal lawsuit in October to force the FDA to drop the decades-long ban. Activists argue restrictions should apply to all potential blood donors who are sexually active, regardless of sexual orientation. “Do you require heterosexuals to be abstinent for one year?” Jason Ciancotto, of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
But the FDA’s advisers are wary of limiting the lifetime ban to a one-year deferral period. “It sounds to me like we’re talking about policy and civil rights rather than our primary duty, which is transfusion safety,” Dr. Susan Leitman told the AP.