Why some gay men aren't cheering FDA decision to lift blood donation ban

After years spent challenging the US Food and Drug Administration's ban on blood donation for gay men, some LGBT activists aren't quite satisfied by the changes to come.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Robert Califf, President Obama's nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 17, before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination. Dr. Califf is currently the deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco.

Not everyone is thrilled with the decision by the US government's health arm to lift a ban on gay men donating blood for medical use, but some of the opposition is coming from sources one might not expect.

Some LGBT supporters say the way the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has changed the ban after 30 years mischaracterizes the issue – and how much has really changed. 

Gay men who have had sex with another man in the last year are still barred from donating blood. Some in the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, a caucus of openly gay members of Congress, have criticized the move as hypocrisy, because a straight man whose sexual encounters in the last year have been varied could donate, while a gay man in a long-term relationship is out of the running.

"It is ridiculous and counter to the public health that a married gay man in a monogamous relationship can't give blood, but a promiscuous straight man who has had hundreds of opposite-sex partners in the last year can," said Rep. Jared Polis (D) of Colorado, a co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, according to Reuters.

The FDA says the all-out ban – put in place 30 years ago as an effort to stop the possible spread of AIDS and HIV throughout the population – is no longer supported by science and can safely be lifted. The FDA lifted the ban based on a study by the government in Australia, which, along with the United Kingdom and New Zealand, dropped a lifelong ban on gay men as blood donors to 12 months.

"Ultimately, the 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the U.S. population," Dr. Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA's biologics division, said in a statement.

The FDA credits its ban with decreasing the transmission of HIV via blood transfusions from 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 1.47 million. The agency proposed the ban and accepted public comment back in May, and roughly half the 700 comments supported keeping the ban.

From a purely practical standpoint, the obvious question is, how would blood drive staff know the intimate details of donors' lives? Such information, like the other restrictions on prospective donors who take certain medications or who have traveled recently to countries where dangerous diseases are common, would seemingly have to be self-reported.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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