FDA to ease restrictions on blood donations for men who have sex with men

An expected change in FDA policy would make it easier for men who have sex with men to donate blood. (Toby Talbot/AP)

Toby Talbot / Toby Talbot

The Food and Drug Administration plans to propose easing restrictions on blood donations by men who have sex with men.

A senior official not authorized to speak publicly about the decision tells NPR the agency intends to unveil the new guidance on Friday. The change is expected to take effect after a public comment period. The Washington Post first reported on the latest development.

The restrictions on donating blood date back to the early days of the AIDS epidemic and were designed to protect the blood supply from HIV. Originally, gay and bisexual men were completely prohibited from donating blood. Over time, the FDA relaxed the lifetime ban, but still kept in place some limits.

Under the current policy — last updated in 2020 — men who have sex with men can donate blood if they haven’t had sexual contact with other men for three months.

FDA officials have been weighing a new policy that would allow anyone to donate regardless of their gender and sexual identity as long as they haven’t engaged in certain sexual behaviors in the past three months.

The move is aimed at addressing criticism that the current policy is discriminatory and outdated, as well as one more barrier to bolstering the nation’s blood supply. Blood banks already routinely screen donated blood for HIV.

In crafting the new guidance, the FDA has been looking to the results of a study of about 1,600 gay and bisexual men to develop screening questions that can identify potential donors who are most likely to be infected with HIV.

For many years, the American Medical Association, the American Red Cross and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have been pushing for a change to the federal rules on blood donations.

“It’s a discriminatory policy that assumes that HIV is a gay disease, and it is very much not,” Tony Morrison from the group GLAAD, told NPR in December. “This is what we have been advocating for for many, many years.”

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