FDA to Review Its Blood Ban for Men Who Have Sex With Men

On May 20, 2010, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would start reviewing its policies on blood donation to consider ending its permanent ban against blood donation from men who have sex with men (MSM). Many transgender people are turned away from donating blood because they are often viewed as being MSM.  The Department of Health and Human Services will host public hearings on the FDA’s blood ban from June 10 and 11th at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, Maryland.

NCTE supports overturning the blood ban because it unfairly targets LGBT people. MSM are explicitly and permanently banned from donating blood, no matter what their HIV status or actual risk level. The FDA does not have such an onerous rule for other people who engage in high-risk behavior; for example, the FDA requires heterosexuals who have sex with someone who is known to be HIV positive to wait only one year before donating blood.

Additionally, the FDA’s blood ban affects transgender individuals even though they are not mentioned in the FDA’s policies. For example, an uninformed intake person at a blood center may decide to deem a transgender woman as male. If she had sex with a man even once, then she can be permanently banned from donating blood.  A transgender man can also be deemed to be an MSM if he had sex with a man.

The FDA instituted its policies in 1983 during a time when HIV/AIDS was poorly understood. And yet, 27 years later, the FDA is still using the same outdated and discriminatory policies to regulate the blood supply despite scientific research that has advanced far enough that a ban is unnecessary. For example, after donation, blood can now be tested for a variety of diseases including hepatitis B and C, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The FDA’s permanent ban against any man who has sex with another man from donating blood is scientifically unjustified.

The American Medical Association, the American Red Cross, and America’s Blood Centers all support overturning the FDA’s blood ban. Many of these organizations support requiring MSM to wait for a one-year or five-year period before donating blood, similar to the one year waiting period for heterosexuals who engage in unprotected sex.

The committee in charge of reviewing the FDA’s blood ban will be tasked with reviewing

  1. Societal, scientific and economic factors for making the policy change,
  2. Whether available scientific research supports making the policy change or whether there must be more studies on this issue,
  3. Whether monitoring tools or surveillance activities should be established before making the policy change, and
  4. Whether there should additional safety measures.

NCTE supports overturning the FDA’s blood ban because it is scientifically unjustified and stigmatizes LGBT individuals. The FDA should revise its policies to reflect current scientific knowledge while safeguarding the United States’ blood supply

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