FDA Endorses Lifetime Gay Blood Ban



The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Blood Products Advisory Panel met last week to discuss lifting the government’s 31-year-old ban on blood donations from men who have had sexual contact with other men. The current rule, initiated in 1983 in the height of the AIDS epidemic, says that men who have had sex with another man since 1977—even if they were wearing a condom—are restricted from donating blood in the United States.

With so much progress in other areas of LGBT rights, it just seems natural that this discriminatory practice would soon fall by the wayside, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. More from Slate:

There was some hope that the panel might support a policy recently endorsed by a nearly unanimous Department of Health and Human Services panel, which would allow gay men to donate blood if they’d been celibate for one year. But even that half-measure appeared to be too much for the panel, which closed its discussion without taking a formal vote.

The panel’s refusal to advise replacing the lifetime ban with a one-year deferral—twinned with its craven refusal to go on the record as opposing it—is deeply irritating. Even more galling is its reasoning, or lack thereof: It’s clear that the advisers on the panel saw the campaign to lift the blood ban as more a political crusade than a scientific appeal. “It sounds to me like we’re talking about policy and civil rights” rather than safety and science, one adviser scoffed. Another anxiously described lowering the ban as “a leap of faith.”

This language is quite curious. The advisers were not considering abolishing the gay blood ban altogether; they were simply considering replacing it with a new ban that forces gay men to be celibate for a year before donating. Their stated opposition to gay blood donation is a fear that HIV-positive men will donate. But every blood donation is tested for HIV, and the virus can now be detected within weeks of infection. If gay men were celibate for a year before their donation, how could they possibly carry an increased risk for HIV? If they were already HIV-negative prior to a year of celibacy, how could they even have HIV at all?

Parse this chain of reasoning, and the Blood Products Advisory Panel’s true fear is obvious: It is afraid gay men will lie. The advisers won’t support a one-year deferral because they believe gay men will lie about how long they’ve been celibate in order to donate blood. There’s just no other way to justify opposition to a one-year deferral.

Read more about the process on Slate, where the writer accuses the FDA of thinking of gay men as being “which is that they are diseased, irresponsible, and untrustworthy.”