The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday posted a request for public comment on what alternative blood donor deferral policies could look like, signaling the possibility that longstanding restrictions on gay blood donations may be lifted.
Currently, gay men are prohibited from donating blood in the United States unless they are abstinent for one year. The notice, posted on the Federal Register, signifies the agency is open to reconsidering its current ban, and is seeking other options.
The FDA’s original ban on gay men donating blood was implemented as a means to prevent the spread of HIV through blood donations, back when there was not a simple way to detect HIV in blood. Today, testing is simple and fast. In 2015, the agency moved from a complete ban to a one year deferral policy that allowed men who have sex with men to donate if they were abstinent for one year. Medical groups and legislators have called the ban discriminatory.
“As part of the effort to continue to assess its donor deferral policies, FDA is opening this docket to provide a mechanism for the public to submit additional information regarding potential blood donor deferral policy options,” an FDA spokesperson said in an email to TIME. “Specifically, we invite interested persons to submit to the docket comments supported by scientific evidence regarding possible revisions to FDA’s blood donor deferral policies to reduce the risk of HIV transmission by blood and blood products.”
In the notice, the agency acknowledges suggestions that it should move from a time-based ban to rules that take into account an individual’s risk of HIV. “An individual risk assessment would involve asking potential donors a series of questions designed to defer donors with high risk behaviors,” the FDA wrote.
U.S. Representative Mike Quigley, Vice-Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, expressed support for the possible change.
“I am encouraged by today’s announcement that the FDA will look into policy solutions in order to move away from the discriminatory time-based deferrals and move closer to individual risk assessment as it relates to blood donor safety screenings,” Quigley said in a statement. “The tragedy at Pulse nightclub in Orlando highlighted the discrimination gay and bisexual men face when attempting to donate blood to those in need.”
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