FDA Relaxes Blood Donation Guidelines for Gay Men

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) announced, on Thursday, that it was updating its outdated policy regarding blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM). According to the updated policy, the FDA has shortened the deferral policy for MSM from 12 months to three months.

“While this change by the FDA is a step in the right direction, it still bases itself in bias rather than science. This is progress from the FDA. But our work is not yet done,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “This announcement by the FDA reduces the waiting period of time to 3 months and shrinks its untenable, virtual ‘ban’ on blood donations for gay and bi+ men. But creating policy based on identity as opposed to risk is irrational and given the current COVID-19 crisis, it is more critical than ever to prioritize science and facts over fear and bias.”

Earlier this morning, in a letter to the FDA, HRC once again urged the agency to make swift changes to this policy in the face of COVID-19 that is based on risk not status. Due to the virus, more than 4,000 blood drives have been canceled since mid-March.

“At no time in our nation’s history has it been more critical to prioritize science and facts over fear and bias,” David said this morning. “Our response will define us for generations. As the global pandemic wears on, the integrity and safety of the blood supply in this country must be preserved, strengthened, and maintained. Continuing to enforce the de facto prohibition on blood donation by sexually active gay and bisexual men does not reflect the best science available. We must right this wrong now and without delay.”

The Human Rights Campaign has repeatedly asked for changes to the federal policy on blood donations, since the FDA adopted its initial, discriminatory policy in 1983. Ten years ago in 2010, HRC renewed its call to change the policy to be more fully inclusive of LGBTQ Americans. In 2015, following a new change to the policy that required MSM to be abstinent for a year, HRC again affirmed that this approach was unacceptable.

"The FDA took a step in the right direction today, reducing the blood donation deferral period for men who have sex with men (MSM) from 12 months to three," added Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A, President, American Medical Association. "In 2015, after significant advocacy, the AMA welcomed the FDA’s decision to end the lifetime ban that prohibited MSM from donating blood. The decision today – at an urgent moment of need – continues the FDA’s efforts to advance regulatory decision-making with scientific evidence."

"At the same time, we urge the FDA to take future steps to remove the categorical restrictions for blood donations by MSM so they are instead based on a person’s individual risk, consistent with the latest scientific evidence, to ensure blood donation criteria is equitably applied across all people," concluded Harris.