April 26, 2010
The Food and Drug Administration is under increasing pressure to revise rules that govern the exclusion of certain blood donors. Under current FDA guidelines, any man who has had sex with another man, even once, since 1977 can never donate blood.
Some health experts and gay-rights advocates are calling for FDA to switch to uniform exclusion criteria, which would focus on sexual risk rather than sexual orientation. All risky behavior -- gay and heterosexual alike -- should be treated the same, says New York-based Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), an AIDS service organization.
Blood-banking organizations also have proposed doing away with the ban, and instead creating a deferral period for blood donations by gay men. Gay men whose most recent sexual encounter with another man was a year or more ago would be allowed to donate blood under such an approach. That same deferral period is already applied to potential donors who are clients of prostitutes or who have had heterosexual activity with an HIV-positive partner.
"We understand there are emotions attached to this, but policies should be science-based," said James AuBuchon, president-elect of AABB (formerly American Association of Blood Banks). "I wouldn't even want to say there would be any additional risk" with a one-year deferral, he said. However, such a new pool of potential donors could be small, he said.
GMHC is calling for deferral periods based on sexual activity for all potential blood donors. That could mean excluding any donor who has sex with more than one person in the previous six months; has had sex with an HIV-positive partner; or has had multiple sex partners.
"The current policy doesn't make sense," said Nathan Schaefer, GMHC's public policy director. "It's not based in science. It's archaic, and it limits the number of donors."
A US Health and Human Services advisory committee on blood safety plans to review the issue in June.