The Food and Drug Administration released highly anticipated draft recommendations that would allow gay men to donate blood after one year of celibacy. While an improvement from the current, highly criticized lifetime ban, the new policy, which was announced in December, still caters to fear and stigma rather than science. It should be reconsidered.
In 1983, early in the AIDS crisis, the F.D.A. categorically prohibited any man who had had sex with a man since 1977 — even once — from ever donating blood. (The ban was one year for men who had had heterosexual sex with someone known to be H.I.V.-positive.) As we argued in The Journal of the American Medical Association last year, this policy was deeply misguided. It lacked solid public health evidence to support it, and was at variance with the policies of other countries — including Britain, Canada and South Africa — that had rescinded such lifetime bans without seeing an increase in infected blood in their supply. The ban meant that the F.D.A. was forgoing an estimated 615,000 pints of blood annually that would be donated to save lives. And it deeply stigmatized gay men.