FDA's Blanket Ban on Gay Blood Donors Could End in Early 2023

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday December 6, 2022

FDA's Blanket Ban on Gay Blood Donors Could End in Early 2023
  (Source:Getty Images)

The FDA is mulling the end to the last vestiges of its longstanding blanket ban on gay blood donors with the release of data from a new study. The end of the ban could happen as soon as early 2023, CBS News reported.

The change hinges on a vote expected to be taken among a "panel of federal advisers," the Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability (ACBTSA), with the committee's recommendation seen as "one of the key final hurdles to ending a sweeping federal ban on blood donations from sexually active gay men."

The committee's vote "would come after the panel is able to review forthcoming data from the Food and Drug Administration's ADVANCE Study," CBS News detailed.

As previously reported, an earlier CBS News article outlined how "the FDA-funded ADVANCE study tested out relying on questionnaires to screen donors, instead of broad 'time-based deferrals.'"

The new policy "would require men who have sex with men to fill out a questionnaire about condom use and recent sexual activity, among other risk factors," The New York Times said.

CBS News quoted a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson as saying that "At the spring ACBTSA meeting next year, the committee will likely vote on a recommendation, after reviewing the data from the Advance Study."

"If the committee next year backs lifting the restrictions, the move would mark one of the last steps to undoing a controversial policy, first introduced in the 1980s and endorsed by the panel as recently as 2010, which had imposed a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood," CBS News said.

"The lifetime ban was reduced in 2015 to allow donating blood after abstaining from sex for 12 months, and then down to three months in 2020."

LGBTQ+ advocates say that the proposed change regarding gay donors would be a welcome continuation of the FDA's modernization of blood donor criteria, but added that the proposed policy would still enshrine 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 Times quoted GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis as saying. "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."

News of the potential change comes after the FDA abolished another longstanding ban on donors who lived in some European countries, as well as Britain, during the "Mad Cow" disease years, when a spate of human infections of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease occurred — due, officials believe, to consumption of tainted meat.

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.