What is the current federal policy on gay and bisexual men donating blood?
On April 2, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it was updating its policy regarding blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM), reducing the deferral period from 12 months to three months. Blood centers nationwide screen potential donors by asking a set of questions written to determine risk factors that could indicate possible infection with a transmissible disease, such as HIV or hepatitis. According to the Food and Drug Administration, this pre-screening eliminates up to 90 percent of donors who may be carrying a blood-borne disease.
Due to the revised policy, the American Red Cross and the nation’s blood banks will be updating their policies, a process that may take several months.
Who writes the policy?
The FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research regulates and establishes standards for the collection of blood and blood products. The center receives advise on this issue by the Blood Products Advisory Council, which meets regularly to consider issues such as altering the pool of potential blood donors.
If officials can test for HIV in blood, why don’t they allow anyone to donate and then destroy tainted units?
Every donated unit of blood undergoes a rigorous series of tests to determine any possible presence of HIV, hepatitis, syphilis and other blood-borne disease. None of these tests, however, are 100 percent accurate, and they can produce faulty results. For instance, despite current restrictions and testing of approximately 12 million units donated each year, 10 HIV-infected units have slipped through. To ensure the safety of blood and other tissues for donation, the FDA uses scientific data to automatically defer certain populations. Because gay and bisexual men have higher incidence of disease, they are eliminated from the donor pool immediately.
What should the federal policy be?
Human Rights Campaign believes that the updated policy, like its precursors, does not treat persons with like risks in a similar way. It also believes that donors are deferred based on their membership in a group — in this case, all men who have sex with men — rather than engagement in risky behavior, such as unprotected sex. For example, a man who has had protected oral sex with another man once in the 3 months currently barred from donating blood. Yet a woman who has had unprotected sex with multiple partners over the same time frame with no knowledge of their personal histories remains in the donor pool.
HRC believes that the integrity and safety of the blood supply in this country should be preserved, strengthened and maintained. Any change or alteration in the regulations governing donor suitability must be based in science. The federal government must invest in new research to study risk behavior. HRC has strongly encouraged FDA to revise the donor questionnaire based on an individual risk assessment of sexual behaviors upon which all donors are evaluated equally, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.
As part of its announcement of the revised deferral policy, the FDA indicated was undertaking the research necessary to modernize the donor questionnaire.