FDA Reportedly Moving to End Blanket Blood Ban

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday December 1, 2022

The Food and Drug Administration, which has in recent years relaxed a once-comprehensive ban on gay men donating blood, may be about to phase out the last vestige of that blanket restriction, according to CBS News.

"Current federal rules prohibit blood banks from collecting donations from men who have had sex with men within the last three months," CBS News noted — a waiting period that is imposed on gay men regardless of marital status, while heterosexual men are not required to observe any waiting time at all, regardless of marital status or recent sexual activity.

"An alternative approach researched in the FDA-funded ADVANCE study tested out relying on questionnaires to screen donors, instead of broad 'time-based deferrals,'" CBS News added.

However, a three-month waiting period would still apply to men who have had new sexual partners within the past three months, The New York Times said.

"The new plan would require men who have sex with men to fill out a questionnaire about condom use and recent sexual activity, among other risk factors," the NYT report detailed.

Carly Kempler, who is with the FDA, said in a statement that while there is no "specific timeline" as of yet "for when our analysis will be complete," the "initial data from the study, taken in the context of other data available from blood surveillance in the U.S. and in other countries, will likely support a policy transition to individual risk-based donor screening questions for reducing the risk of HIV transmission."

"The F.D.A. has long discouraged men who have sex with men from donating blood," the NYT article recalled. "A complete prohibition was put in place in the 1980s, amid fears of H.I.V. transmission. In 2015, the agency allowed gay and bisexual men to donate if they had not had sexual contact with other men for the previous year."

"The period was reduced to three months after severe blood shortages during the Covid-19 pandemic."

News of the potential change comes after the FDA abolished another longstanding ban on donors who lived in some European countries, as well as Britain, during the "Mad Cow" disease years, when a spate of human infections of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease occurred, due, officials believe, to consumption of tainted meat.

"Through 2019, 232 people were sickened worldwide by vCJD and all of them died, including four people in the United States, according to the FDA," WebMD said. "It can take years for symptoms to appear and eventually vCJD is fatal after progressively destroying brain cells."

LGBTQ+ advocates say that the proposed change regarding gay donors would be a welcome continuation of the FDA's modernization of blood donor criteria, but that it would not be a good end point because the proposed policy would still enshrine homophobia over sound science.

"I think it is a nominal step in the right direction," the Times quoted GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis as saying. "It's not where it should be, though. Our community and leading medical experts have been saying now for years that these decisions that the F.D.A. is making on blood bans for the L.G.B.T.Q. community are based in stigma and not science. And we're seeing that pattern continue here."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.