US opens door to a change in blood donation policy for gay men

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FDA Might Lift Ban On Gay Men Donating Blood

(Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opened the door on Tuesday to a change in its blood donor deferral recommendations, which currently prohibit donations from gay men for a year following their last sexual encounter in order to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

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In December the FDA overturned a 30-year ban on all blood donations from men who have sex with men, saying the change was based on science showing an indefinite ban was not necessary to prevent transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus.

The FDA is now signaling it may go further.

Gay rights advocates say the latest update did not go far enough and that the agency's recommendations should move closer to individual risk assessments, which could, for example, look at whether an individual has been in a monogamous relationship. Their criticism intensified in the wake of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June, which saw many gay men unable to donate blood even as blood banks put out calls for donors.

See social reactions on the disputed ban:

12 PHOTOS
FDA ends ban on gay blood donors
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FDA ends ban on gay blood donors
The FDA lifting the gay/bisexual men ban on blood donors is great. But the deferral rule is a disgusting double standard.
This FDA statement is straight out of an evangelical fever dream: being gay isn't the sin, but being a well-adjusted adult who has sex is
@SladeHV being MSM is still the biggest risk factor for HIV, and is a key part of a behavioral screen.
@SladeHV the FDA didn't make up the idea that HIV incidence is approx. 30x higher among gay men than the whole population.
@SladeHV but there's no civil right to give blood, and the statement that someone has elevated risk factors for a disease is not an insult.
@jbarro half-true: it is not my right, but I can still be insulted and be made to less than
i'm sure a lot of gay men are going to abstain for a year just so they can give blood. that's totally a logical approach, fda, well done.
Dear @nytimes, Let’s be responsible tweeters. The FDA lift on gay men giving blood is ONLY for those who are celibate. #Homophobia reigns.
Exciting that I can now donate my gay blood just as long as I stop acting gay.
Sexual orientation has NOTHING to do with one’s ability to donate blood. NOTHING.
You can't have sex with your husband for year if you want to donate blood. #ridiculous #homophobic #DoesOralCount?
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In a notice posted to the Federal Register, the FDA said it was establishing a public docket for comment about its current recommendations and that interested people should submit comments, backed by scientific evidence, supporting alternative potential policies to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

Such suggestions "could include the feasibility of moving from the existing time-based deferrals related to risk behaviors to alternate deferral options, such as the use of individual risk assessments."

The agency said it would take the comments into account "as it continues to reevaluate and update blood donor deferral policies as new scientific information becomes available."

The FDA's action comes after 115 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Democrat Mike Quigley, vice chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, wrote to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf calling on him to end the current policy, saying it discriminated against men who have sex with men. A similar letter was signed by 22 senators.

In a statement on Tuesday, Quigley said he was "encouraged" by the FDA's announcement.

"The tragedy at Pulse nightclub in Orlando highlighted the discrimination gay and bisexual men face when attempting to donate blood to those in need," he said.

"Moving towards an individual risk assessment would provide for a fair, equitable, nondiscriminatory blood donation policy, one based in science that allows all healthy Americans to safely donate blood."

(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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