Lawyer Gal's Blog

A Young Lawyer's Perspective

Ban on gay & bisexual men giving blood to be reconsidered by FDA

On June 10-11, the Federal Food & Drug Administration will review its 1983 ban on homosexual and bisexual men giving blood.  The ban is a lifetime for any man who has had sex with another man since 1977.

I found the viewpoints on both sides to be very compelling, and have offered tidbits of each.  Comments and feedback would be valuable.

Lifting the Ban Viewpoint

In March, John Kerry and 17 other senators, including Sherrod Brown of Ohio, wrote a letter to the head of the FDA urging reconsideration of the ban.  In 1983, when the ban was implemented, a lot of hemophiliacs were becoming HIV positive through blood transfusions.  The science was not in place to accurately screen HIV blood from entering the donation banks. Since then, science has advanced quite a bit.  All blood goes through 2 rigorous tests.

Other developed states, such as Japan, Australia, Argentina and Sweden permit donations from homosexual and bisexual men after a 1 year deferral period.  The deferral [waiting] period lets gay men in monogamous relationships for a year or more give blood.  There is a risk of 1 HIV positive blood unit for every 11 million units of blood with the 1 year ban.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal advocates the abrogation of the policy, which also exists in Canada.  Deferral policies of a year already exist for people who have had sex with a prostitute, gotten a tattoo, or been in a malarial zone.

The Journal article parallels the growing trend towards abrogation.  The American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks support a change in the FDA rules after a deferral period.

Keeping the Ban Viewpoint

According the the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50% of new HIV cases in 2009 were among homosexual men, especially in the age bracket of 19-25.  The Center notes that of the 1.1 million people living in the US with HIV/AIDS, 1/5 are unaware of infection.

The FDA notes that gay men have a HIV prevalence 60 times higher than the general population; 800 times higher than first-time blood donors; and 8,000 times higher than repeat donors.  Additionally, homosexuals have an increased risk of other infections that can occur through blood transfusions.  Among the gay population, Hep B is 5-6 times more common; Hep C is 2 times more common.

Although blood is tested twice, screening tests can be falsely negative during a “window period” of up to 11 days.  The window period is the interval between the time an infected individual may transmit the disease and the time when screening becomes positive.


This issue, obviously, is highly sensitive.  The policy is clearly discriminatory, which the FDA admits.  But the discrimination is not invidious and is based upon health concerns.

Certainly, the pool of blood donors would be significantly widened if gay and bisexual men were permitted to donate.  With the constant shortage of blood, the increase in supply could potentially assist very ill people.  Yet, there is still a chance that someone fighting one disease or illness, albeit remote, could be infected with a deadly disease.

The June 10-11 meeting is open to the public.  Expect groups from both sides to vehemently debate.


June 8, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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