Well, it's about time.
In 1983, the Food & Drug Administration banned gay and bisexual men from giving blood for their entire lives. At the time, there was a major AIDS outbreak, and very little was known about HIV, which causes the disease. Since there wasn't a quick way to test for it and it had spread most rapidly in the gay community, the FDA decided they just wouldn't accept blood donations from any man who'd had sex with another man, regardless of how he identified.
After nearly 32 years, the FDA has at last showed us a sign of progress. The agency announced today that it's going to amend this policy.
Fortunately for those in need of blood transfusions, this move could raise the nation's annual blood supply by 4%. In a statement, the agency said it intended to issue a draft guidance detailing the change in 2015.
However, the new policy is still imperfect. It will exclude the 3.8% (about five million) of American men who report having had a male sexual partner in the past year. So instead of a lifetime ban, gay and bisexual men still have a yearlong ban. In a report, the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles has calculated that if the FDA included this group of five million men, it would double the potential new supply of blood.
We're relieved that the FDA is reconsidering its antiquated policies, but by shortening the ban instead of doing away with it completely, the organization continues to discriminate between men with male sexual partners and men who don't.
Indeed, there is a window when one can be ineffective and not test positive, but it's short now — about 12 days — due to nucleic acid tests.
As always, more research needs to be done, but a year seems like a pretty long time to abstain from sex if you just want to donate blood.