Amended FDA ban on gay men donating blood criticized

WASHINGTON — Since the 1980s, gay and bisexual men have been barred from donating blood in the United States.   The ban went into place in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, which hit the gay community especially hard.

Back then, there were no accurate, easy tests for the AIDS virus.  Today,  excellent screening methods are available and the Food And Drug Administration has decided it’s time to amend the ban.

So instead of the lifetime ban on blood donations implemented in 1983, the FDA now says gay and bisexual men can become blood donors one year after their last sexual contact.

Some advocates for gay rights welcomed the move.   But the largest provider in the D.C. region of care for AIDS patients says it does not go nearly far enough.

Dr. Raymond Martins, the Chief Medical Office of Whitman Walker Health, calls the proposal “a huge slap in the face.”

He says the government is not lifting the ban, but is putting in place a very arbitrary period of celibacy that makes no sense given the current state of science.

“It’s not based on any medical evidence and the fact is we have such great technologies now to screen for HIV and other diseases that this year of celibacy does not seem necessary,” he emphasizes.

The FDA says the matter remains under review and Martins is convinced that before too long, the ban will be totally gone.

“To me, the ban will be eventually lifted as society is shifting,” he says. “I feel like these guidelines are still more based on stereotypes and less on scientific evidence..”

The amended ban would put the United States in the same camp as Britain, Australia and Japan, which have already replaced their lifetime bans with a 12-month celibacy requirement..

A study earlier in 2014 by researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA lookied into the impact lifting the ban would have on the blood supply. The study found that if the ban was replaced with a 12-month celibacy clause,  an estimated 185,000 men would add 317,000 additional pints of blood each year.  Totally lifting the ban would bring in roughly 360,600 new donors providing an extra 615,300 pints.

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