The federal government on Tuesday proposed its plans to permit gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they have abstained from sex for a year.
The policy is aimed at safeguarding the blood supply for hemophiliacs and other users. It is similar to those of several nations, which also have a one-year or multiple-year sexual abstinence policy for men who have sex with men (MSM).
The policy is denounced by gay-rights groups who say MSM who are married or in monogamous relationships have less risk for transmitting diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis than heterosexuals who have multiple female sex partners.
In draft guidance for the blood-products industry posted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency spells out its current thinking on blood safety and deferral policies.
The MSM policy, which would defer them as donors until 12 months after their last sexual contact with another man, would replace a policy developed in the wake of the 1980s AIDS epidemic that banned men as donors if they had had sex with a man even once since 1977.
Dr. Robert M. Wah, president of the American Medical Association, praised the FDA for “taking a step in the right direction” with its draft guidance.
However, David Stacy, director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said it “still falls far short” because “it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men.”
“We are committed to working towards an eventual outcome that both minimizes risk to the blood supply and treats gay and bisexual men with the respect they deserve,” said Mr. Stacy.
Despite some public confusion about “gay” bans on blood donations, lesbians have never been affected by the MSM policy.
Other countries with a one-year deferral for MSM include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Hungary, Japan, Sweden and United Kingdom, the FDA said.
In the new draft recommendations, which are nonbinding at this time, a woman who has had sex with a man who has had sex with a man would also be deferred as a donor for 12 months.
People who are still “indefinitely” deferred include those who have engaged in commercial sex work, non-prescription injection drug use, or had a positive HIV test, the FDA said in its draft guidance for industry. Many other people are ineligible as blood donors due to their medical histories and international travel.