FDA considers easing ban on gay blood donors

During the summer months, the nation's blood supply dwindles. But one segment of the population, gay men, is banned from donating entirely.

The Food and Drug Administration is addressing concerns about discrimination and proposing changes.

“When I was in high school, I gave blood at the school blood drive just like everybody else,” Mark Shields said. He later realized he was gay. Working for the American Red Cross in the blood services division, he could no longer donate.

“It was an awkward time to have co-workers and new colleagues saying, ‘hey are you going to give blood,’ full-well knowing because of the ban on gay donors I couldn't give,” Shields said.

Gay men have been banned from giving blood since 1977 because statistics from the centers for disease control showed the prevalence of HIV among gay men was 60 times higher than in the general population.

Thirty years later, advances in detecting the virus have come a long way. Many gay men feel the ban is discriminatory.

There's no question in the health history about whether you've had unprotected sex, gay or straight,” said Shields.

The FDA is considering a proposal to change the ban to a one-year deferral after male-to male sexual contact. Organizations like the Red Cross support the idea.

Doctor Celso Bianco from America's blood centers admits that would still prevent the majority of gay men from donating, but it is a small step.
“A small fraction of them would be allowed to donate,” Bianco said.

Shields says sexuality dating all the way back to 1977, as is asked in the questionnaire for blood donors, still shouldn't be an issue.

“I think the bottom line here is if you're healthy and in good shape, and willing to give blood you should be able to roll up your sleeve and do that,” he said.

Groups like Plasma recipients and the hemophiliac community don’t support lifting the ban at all. Their representatives say they want more evidence to show the blood supply will remain safe.