AMA Says FDA Should Give OK to Gays Donating Blood
On July 18, the American Medical Association voted to oppose a thirty year ban by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that prohibits gay men from donating blood. The ban originated in response to the AIDS outbreak, when little was known about the virus, and gay men were more likely to have contracted the virus, but experts now agree the policy is outdated.
"The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science," AMA board member Dr. William Kobler said in a statement. "This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone."
The AMA recommends that the FDA change its policy so that gay men are evaluated on as individual people, rather than being lumped together in a high-risk category. They also recommend the FDA crafts a policy that more accurately represents scientific research.
"This decades-long policy not only goes against science, it also discriminates against gay men who are already subject to stigma in our nation," said Chris Collins, amfAR's vice president and director of public policy. "We are very pleased to see the AMA's leadership on this issue and we will continue working for a more rational policy on blood donation."
The GLMA applauded the AMA's new policies to improve LGBT health, including this policy change, physician education of the "treatment as prevention" model of HIV care, conforming transgender individuals birth certificates, ending discrimination against LGBT patients by medical students and confidential care for minors. GLMA President Desi Bailey has spoken in committee in support of this policy and voted in support of the policy in the House of Delegates.
"The voice of the AMA has great influence and helps set the standard for the healthcare industry, and these new policies will have significant impact on the health of the LGBT community," said GLMA Executive Director Hector Vargas. "We are proud to have played a role in supporting these policies and look forward to continuing to address critical LGBT health issues by contributing to the development and adoption of future AMA policy statements related to LGBT health."
Top officials at America's Blood Centers, which provides nearly half of America's blood supply, suggested the FDA adopt policies similar to those used abroad. In countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, gay men are allowed to donate blood if they have abstained from sex with a man for a certain period of time.
The policy must be reconciled with the FDA's statistics that indicate that gay men represent 61 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S.
In 2010 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created an advisory committee to discuss the policy. The Red Cross, America's Blood Centers and AABB, a non-profit representing individuals and institutions involved in the field of transfusion medicine, released a joint statement advocating to change the policy to allow men, who have had sex with men, to donate blood as long as a certain amount of time has passed since their last sexual encounter. The HHS submitted a request for additional studies in 2012; they are still evaluating the results. But LGBT medical groups say it is time for a change.
"As our nation continues to struggle with blood shortages, it's time that we move from this antiquated and blanket policy," said Kevin Robert Frost, amfAR's CEO. "There are other ways to screen donors who are at high risk of HIV as the technology to detect signs of the virus in the blood has vastly improved since the 1980s."