WASHINGTON — Advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will not reconvene to continue discussions or to recommend an end to the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.
BuzzFeed News reports that a spokesperson for the Blood Products Advisory Committee (BPAC) said in an email Friday that “the BPAC has fulfilled its role in providing advice to the FDA.”
The group met on Dec. 2 to hear from scientists and blood-donation groups, including the American Red Cross, but closed its meeting without voting on a recommendation.
Weeks earlier, on Nov. 13, a separate panel of blood safety experts convened by Department of Health and Human Services voted 16-2 in favor of doing away with the ban on donations from gay and bisexual men. The panel recommended moving to a one-year deferral period, which would bar male donors who have had sex with men in the previous 12 months.
But the FDA’s experts did not overwhelmingly embrace that proposal, and instead urged the Food and Drug Administration to exercise caution in making any changes to current policy, saying the impact on the blood supply is difficult to predict.
“If I look at the science I would be very wary of a one-year deferral,” said Dr. Susan Leitman. “It sounds to me like we’re talking about policy and civil rights rather than our primary duty, which is transfusion safety.”
The ban, first imposed in 1983, dates from the first years of the AIDS epidemic and was intended to protect the U.S. blood supply from exposure to the little-understood disease.
The American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks have since 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.
And gay rights activists say the lifetime ban is discriminatory and perpetuates negative stereotypes against gay and bisexual men.
The FDA is not required to follow the recommendations of its advisers, and advocates say they will look to bypass the FDA’s advisory panel by pressuring the Obama Administration to take action.
Citing congressional sources, BuzzFeed reports that some 80 members of Congress plan to ask Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to change the policy in a letter Monday that will describe the ban as unscientific and outdated.
The letter will argue that donors’ risky behaviors, whether gay or straight, should be the test of whether they can give blood, not sexual orientation.
In a separate development, the Justice Department has moved to dismiss a lawsuit against the FDA filed by a gay rights activist who is challenging the ban as discriminatory and unconstitutional.
In its motion to dismiss, the DOJ writes the “FDA has been recommending indefinite deferrals for MSM (men who have sex with men). However, the agency is currently reevaluating its MSM deferral policy based on current science and plans to determine whether and how to revise the policy in the coming year.”