Last month, an advisory panel in the Department of Health and Human Services voted to recommend the lifting of a ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual that dates all the way back to the early 1980s. The decision paved the way for FDA to end the ban, which it did on Tuesday.
In a statement, the agency announced that it "will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men." Headlines capturing the landmark shift read "F.D.A. Lifting Ban on Gay Blood Donors" and enthusiasm characterized some of the response to the news on social media. However, there was a "but" that went somewhat unnoticed.
The FDA may have lifted its lifetime ban, which was discriminatory and based on an archaic stigma attached to the AIDS epidemic that first bore the prohibition, but in its place, the agency is enacting a deferral that sets "one year since the last sexual contact" as the new threshold for blood donation for gay men.
"I predict blood donation drops because it's way less embarrassing to lie about being gay than to lie about being celibate," one observer remarked. It's a great line, but also highlights the complexity and the absurdity of a policy that is already based on a wayward honor system of sorts. As many have noted, the new policy conforms with that of a number of countries including the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, and Japan, all of which use the one-year ban.