HOUSTON, TX - Blood donations can save lives, but they can spark heated controversies too. The Food and Drug Administration is considering easing the life-long ban on gay blood donation, established when the HIV outbreak started in the US in the late 1970s.
"The current rule is that any man who's had sex with a man since 1977 is deferred indefinitely, which means they cannot give blood at all," explained Susan N. Rossmann, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Medical Officer at Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center.
For many years, civil rights groups and medical associations have been saying that such restrictions are discriminatory and not supported by scientific evidence. Instead, the FDA might now require 12 months of sexual abstinence from gay men to become eligible donors.
"Although we have very good testing, it's still not completely perfect," said Rossmann, "and there is a period of time, what we call the window period, between a possible risk and the time that our testing picks up. So, it's important to maintain some margin of safety there."
And you are wondering how people know who is gay and who isn't. There's an official questionnaire aspiring donors have to fill out before they stick a needle in their veins. Question 34 states: "From 1977 to the present, have you had sexual contact with another male, even once?"
"We test all blood, for HIV, hepatitis, a number of other agents," expressed Rossmann. "So, every unit that goes to a patient is tested. In addition, we are relying upon the donor to give us actual information because almost everyone is most interested in the safety of the patient."
The FDA will gather opinions for 60 days before presenting its new guidelines. In the meantime, nothing has changed.
"When new donors become available, when these changes go into effect we would welcome them to become Commit for Life donors," she said.
Time will tell which way this outcome will swing.