FDA to ease blood donation ban on gay men after decades of restriction


Gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships will no longer be forced to abstain from sex to donate blood under federal guidelines to be proposed in coming days, ending a vestige of the earliest days of the AIDS crisis.

The planned relaxation of restrictions by the Food and Drug Administration follows years of pressure by blood banks, the American Medical Association and LGBT rights organizations to abandon rules some experts say are outdated, homophobic and ineffective at keeping the nation’s blood supply safe.

The new approach eliminates rules that target men who have sex with men and instead focuses on sexual behaviors by people, regardless of gender, that pose a higher risk of contracting and transmitting HIV, according to an official with direct knowledge of the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment. The FDA is expected to adopt the proposal after a period of public comment.

Other countries including Canada and the United Kingdom have made similar changes in recent years.

For decades, gay men said they were made to feel like pariahs as they were barred from performing a widely lauded act of community service, sidelined from joining friends and family giving blood after national disasters. The rigidity of the FDA rules — making no exceptions for those who are in monogamous relationships — made some feel as though they could not be trusted or are viewed as disease vectors, no matter what steps they take to protect their health.

“Keeping the blood supply safe is paramount, but it is also important to move forward so that we are not excluding a group of donors who could be perfectly safe,” said Claudia Cohn, chief medical officer for the Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies, a nonprofit that oversees development of donor screening questionnaires.

When the country faced a dire blood shortage in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Cole Williams faced an awkward situation. Commercials soliciting blood donors constantly played on television. His family wanted to give blood together. But Williams, who is bisexual and now 22, had to explain he was ineligible because he had recently had sex with a man.

“We shouldn’t have to fight this hard to do something as selfless as giving blood,” said Williams, a nursing student who formed the advocacy group Pride and Plasma to advocate for changes to the FDA policy. “I could have as much unprotected sex with as many women as I wanted, and the FDA would have no problem with that.”

Technological advancements in blood screening and a new FDA-funded study backing the proposed approach rendered sweeping prohibitions on sexually active gay and bisexual men moot, some experts said. Newly eligible donors probably would not be able to give blood until the end of the year or early next year while the FDA finalizes changes and blood banks implement them.

Some activists say gay men would still be treated unfairly under the proposed guidelines, which would allow them to give blood if they had not had a new anal sexual partner in the prior three months.

There is no exception for people…

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