FDA to Loosen Gay Blood Donor Restrictions

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday January 27, 2023

FDA to Loosen Gay Blood Donor Restrictions
  (Source:Getty Images)

The FDA is expected to announce a revised policy around blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM) on Jan. 27, according to NPR.

According to a "senior official not authorized to speak publicly about the decision," the FDA "intends to unveil the new guidance" today, though a public comment period would come before the changes eventually take effect.

As previously reported, the new approach would involve a questionnaire asking about potential donor's sexual history over the previous three months. Certain sexual practices might still disqualify donations, but the shift drops the current blanket ban on male donors who have had sex with other men in that three-month period of time.

The current policy was put into effect in 2020 and replaced an earlier requirement established in 2015 that MSM refrain from sexual contact with other men — even their own partners or spouses — for a full year before being eligible to donate blood. The 2015 update, in turn, had replaced a total and lifetime ban on MSM that had been imposed on blood donors during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

"The move is aimed at addressing criticism that the current policy is discriminatory and outdated, as well as one more barrier to bolstering the nation's blood supply," NPR noted. "Blood banks already routinely screen donated blood for HIV."

LGBTQ+ advocates have said that the newest change would be a welcome continuation of the FDA's modernization of blood donor criteria, but added that it still enshrines homophobia over sound science.

"Our community and leading medical experts have been saying now for years that these decisions that the F.D.A. is making on blood bans for the L.G.B.T.Q. community are based in stigma and not science," the New York Times quoted GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis as saying last month. "And we're seeing that pattern continue here."

But Dr. Claudia Cohn, the director of the University of Minnesota's Blood Bank Laboratory, told CBS News that "When it comes to data and blood safety, FDA is extremely and appropriately conservative."

"While blood banks are now able to run tests to screen for HIV," CBS News observed, "there is still a risk that the virus could be missed during the 'window period' early in a person's infection."

"In crafting the new guidance, the FDA has been looking to the results of a study of about 1,600 gay and bisexual men to develop screening questions that can identify potential donors who are most likely to be infected with HIV," NPR noted.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.