Health Care

LGBT groups, lawmakers: FDA’s move on blood ban not enough

LGBT advocacy groups are condemning the federal government’s new plans to allow gay men to donate blood only if they have been celibate for one year, calling the policy a “de facto lifetime ban.”

The Food and Drug Administration drew praise Tuesday when it announced plans to ease a 31-year-old prohibition on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, which has been widely described as medically unwarranted.

But under the new policy, gay and bisexual men would only be allowed to donate blood if they have refrained from sexual contact for one year. That shift falls short of recommendations  from groups like the American Medical Association to end the ban entirely.

“The reality for most gay and bisexual men — including those in committed, monogamous relationships — is that this proposal will continue to function as a de facto lifetime ban,” Ian Thompson, an ACLU legislative representative, wrote in a statement.

A leading HIV/AIDS advocacy group, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, said the government’s decision to keep the one-year ban remains “offensive and harmful.”

By implementing this policy, the FDA will continue to fan the flames of the outdated stereotype that HIV is only a ‘gay disease,’ ” the group wrote in a statement.

“Some may believe this is a step forward, but in reality, requiring celibacy for a year is a de facto lifetime ban,” the group wrote.

Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, vowed to work with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to fully reverse the “discriminatory ban.”

“Today’s announcement is a welcome step in the right direction, however, I am disappointed that low-risk gay men are still being discriminated against with this outdated policy,” she wrote in a statement.  

“Healthy Americans who don’t engage in risky behavior, regardless of their sexual orientation, should have the opportunity to donate blood and help in the effort to save lives,” she added.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), one of 75 members of Congress to call for the change, also said the FDA’s decision was not enough.

“The Administration must continue to work towards implementing blood donation policies based on individual risk factors instead of singling out one group of people and turning away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages,” she wrote in a statement.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) hailed the FDA’s decision, tweeting that “reversing the ban on gay men donating blood is long overdue.”

The FDA plans to issue a draft guidance in 2015, which will then go through a lengthy public comment period.

Dr. Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said the FDA will begin new studies to determine whether the ban could be reversed entirely. He said the FDA has not yet seen scientific evidence that supports that change.

“At this time, we simply don’t have the evidence that we can go to a shorter period,” Marks said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that the recommended one-year deferral is reasonable.”

Tags Dianne Feinstein Patty Murray Tammy Baldwin

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