Update: In June, The Health and Human Services Department’s Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability declined to change the current ban on gay men donating blood, but did recommend that current policies be reviewed, noting that current policy may permits potentially high-risk blood donations while preventing low-risk donations. The panel ultimately concluded that existing research isn’t adequate to justify lifting the ban, and more research is needed on this controversial issue.
According to CNN, the Federal Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability will consider the controversial issue of blood donations from gay men. In June, this committee will makes recommendations to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA. Current FDA rules prohibit men who have had sex with another man since 1977 from donating blood. The rules came about during the initial outbreak of AIDS in the early 1980’s, when tests used at the time were unable to screen for HIV-positive blood. The FDA instituted the ban in order to protect the safety of the blood supply.
Fast forward to the present day, when medical technology allows for more stringent testing of the country’s blood supply, including screening for HIV antibodies, which makes the risk of infection very small. However, those who feel the ban should stay in place point to a “window period” of about two weeks after an individual becomes infected with HIV where the virus is undetectable by current testing methods.
Other people who engage in what is considered “high-risk” behaviors are also banned from donating blood, though they do not necessarily face a lifetime ban like gay men. For example, people who engage in sexual activity with prostitutes or get a tattoo are prohibited from donating blood for a year. Those who support easing the restrictions for gay men point to the unfairness of such screening practices. However, Dr. Jay Brooks, professor of pathology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio states that the blood donation rules were based upon data that indicates “the risk of HIV is much lower in heterosexuals.” (For more data on this issue, refer to the FDA’s FAQ which discusses the medical reasons behind the ban.)