Health

FDA calls for end of ban on gay men donating blood

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will propose ending its ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg announced in a statement Tuesday. Restrictions would remain, however: the agency is suggesting changing its rules so that men who have sex with men would have to wait one year "since the last sexual contact" to donate blood.

Gay rights activists have been pushing the FDA to end its ban, and they were quick to respond to the announced change Tuedsay, saying it did not go far enough.

In a statement, David Stacy of the Human Rights Campaign said the policy change fell short of an acceptable solution "because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men, preventing them from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation, rather than a policy based on actual risk to the blood supply."

Ryan James Yezak, an L.A. based filmmaker and activist who founded the National Gay Blood Drive -- an annual event where straight people donate blood on behalf of gay friends and family -- said the event would continue until all restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men are lifted.

The FDA's Hamburg said the recommended change comes after the FDA "carefully examined and considered" the results of several recent scientific studies and epidemiologic data. The agency also took into account the recommendations of advisory committees to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA, she said.

The new policy would "better align the deferral period with that of other men and women at increased risk for HIV infection," Hamburg said. Under FDA rules, a man who’s had sex with a woman he knows to be HIV positive can donate blood after waiting a year.

Hamburg said the FDA has "already taken steps to implement a national blood surveillance system that will help the agency monitor the effect of a policy change and further help to ensure the continued safety of the blood supply."

The FDA plans to issue a draft guidance recommending the proposed policy change in 2015, Hamburg said, adding that there will be an opportunity for public comment.