ARLINGTON, Va. — A panel of doctors and blood donor advocates who advise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services voted Thursday to recommend that the federal government end its lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.
The U.S. Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety Availability (ACBTSA) met Thursday to review the latest research on the 31-year-old ban. The panel 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, first imposed in 1983, “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.
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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.
David Stacy, Government Affairs Director for the Human Rights Campaign, said that while the panel’s proposal is “nominally better than the existing policy,” it still “falls far short because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men, preventing them from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation.”
Caleb Laieski, an LGBTQ activist who last month filed a federal lawsuit to force U.S. Food and Drug Administration to lift the ban, testified before the panel Thursday.
Laieski told LGBTQ Nation that he felt the vote to recommend altering the ban to one year of abstinence was a good starting point, but that he intends to pursue his lawsuit until the ban is completely lifted.
A recent study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimated that if the ban was completely eliminated, 360,600 men would likely donate 615,300 additional pints of blood a year, which could be used to help 1.8 million people.
The committee’s recommendation will be made to the Blood Products Advisory Committee which will meet in December. That advisory committee will in turn make recommendations to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If the Secretary decides to move forward with a change to the current ban, formal rule-making from the Administration will be required.