The FDA has banned gay men from donating blood since 1983, however, the American Medical Association has just voted against the ban, saying it is outright discrimination.

After the AIDS outbreak nearly three decades ago, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) decided that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to donate blood, given that the majority of HIV infections were among gay men.

However, HIV and AIDS testing in blood donations is much more advanced today than it was then.

Currently, only one in every two million blood donations results in an HIV infection.

The FDA previously announced:

“Men who have had sex with men since 1977 have an HIV prevalence (the total number of cases of a disease that are present in a population at a specific point in time) 60 times higher than the general population, 800 times higher than first time blood donors and 8000 times higher than repeat blood donors.”

AMA (American Medical Association) board member Dr. William Kobler said that the ban should be lifted, pointing out that “the ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science. 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The ban is outdated, says a policy analyst for the HIV/AIDS advocacy group Gay Men’s Health Crisis, adding that it was adopted at a time when scientists had little knowledge about HIV. Since then “our technology has advanced to the point where it is antiquated to keep this policy in place and to keep those units of blood from entering the blood supply.”

Martin Algaze, spokesman for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, previously stated that “the existing policy is archaic and discriminatory because it falsely assumes that all gay men are HIV-positive regardless of their sexual behavior. At the same time, it allows heterosexuals to donate blood even if they have participated in risky sexual or drug-use behavior.”

Jeff Bennett, the author of “Banning Queer Blood”, also believes that it’s about time to lift the ban.

Bennett said:

“The ban was created in 1983, and I think, at the time they made the right call. They didn’t know what HIV was, how it spread, or how to detect it. People were dying, it was a worldwide crisis, and this was a move to protect the blood supply.”

In other countries, like Canada and the U.K, gay men are allowed to give blood as long as they have not engaged in sexual acts with other men within a certain amount of time of the donation.

Allowing gay men to give blood could be possible in the U.S. with the introduction of similar policies to those adopted in Canada and the UK, said Louis Katz, vice president for America’s Blood Centers.

Debra Kessler, who is the director of the country’s biggest blood bank, the New York Blood Center, said that if the FDA does eventually allow gay men to donate blood, they would most likely require them to abstain from homosexual acts for five years before giving blood.

Dr. Mark Wainberg and Dr. Norbert Gilmore published their views of the topic in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) (May 2010 issue); they stated that while the ban may have once been ethically and scientifically justified, it no longer makes sense.

The two researchers said that the gay blood donation ban is scientifically unsound.

Dr. Wainberg concluded:

“The 1983 ban has hung on so long, unfortunately, because many people became infected by HIV in the early 80s through blood transfusions, and they have mounted continuing pressure on the blood agencies to maintain the ban. While we can sympathize with them, this no longer makes sense in 2010, and with each passing year it makes less sense.”

A 2010 report by the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law estimated that lifting the ban would increase the nation’s blood supply by 1.4 percent.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist