On December 23, 2014, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg announced that the agency favors supplanting the outright ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM) with a new policy that would prohibit donations from men who have engaged in homosexual activity in the previous 12 months. This shift for MSM would comport with the mandatory deferral period for other men and women at higher risk for HIV. It would also align with other countries’ policies including Australia, Japan, and the U.K.
“Over the past several years, in collaboration with other government agencies, the FDA has carefully examined and considered the available scientific evidence relevant to its blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men,” Hamburg said in her statement. The FDA also cited the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability, an independent expert advisory panel. But when, exactly, this policy shift will take effect remains uncertain. According to the FDA’s announcement, the agency “intends to issue a draft guidance recommending this proposed change in policy in 2015, which will also include an opportunity for public comment.”
As noted in an earlier post, gay rights advocates, the American Red Cross, and other groups have long condemned the indefinite ban—enacted during the emergence of the AIDS epidemic—as discriminatory. They also have argued that it is medically and scientifically unjustified. Yet they are far from satisfied with the result of their advocacy efforts to change the ban. According to Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a prominent nonprofit dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and advocacy, “This new policy does not require heterosexual blood donors to be celibate for one year. Some may believe this is a step forward, but in reality, requiring celibacy for a year is a de facto lifetime ban.”