FDA panel to weigh ending lifetime blood donor ban on gay, bisexual men


WASHINGTON — Advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will meet this week to consider a recommendation that it end its lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men.

blood-donorAn FDA panel will begin a two-day meeting on the issue Tuesday, amid growing calls from medical groups, gay rights activists and lawmakers to ditch the 31-year-old ban.

The U.S. Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety Availability (ACBTSA) on Nov. 13 voted 16-2 to recommend amending the policy from the current lifetime ban to one that allows men who have had sex with men to donate blood after being abstinent for one year.

Under the current FDA policy, “men who have had sex with other men (MSM), at any time since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States) are currently deferred as blood donors.”

 “This is because MSM are, as a group, at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion,” according to the policy, first enacted in 1983 at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Long-time critics of the ban, including some members of Congress, say the Dec. 2 meeting is a step in the right direction.

“We’ve got the ball rolling. I feel like this is a tide-turning vote,” Ryan James Yessak, an LGBT activist who founded the National Gay Blood Drive and will speak at before the Blood Products Advisory Committee, told The Hill. “There’s been a lot of feet dragging and I think they’re realizing it now.”

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The American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks have characterized the blood ban as medically and scientifically unwarranted.

The American Medical Association, the largest association of physicians in the U.S., voted last year to oppose the decades long ban, noting that HIV and AIDS testing has become standard practice in blood donations to minimize risk to recipients.

If the FDA accepts the recommendation from its advisory board, it would roll back a policy that has faced mounting criticism from LGBT advocates and some members of Congress for more than four years.

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