In 1983, to keep HIV out of the blood supply, the Food and Drug Administration banned any man who had sex with another man after 1977 from donating blood. Next month they might finally strike the discriminatory law.
In June, the Federal Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability will hold hearings on whether or not it's safe for gay men to start donating blood again only 27 years after the ban started. If the board says it's alright, they'll tell the Department of Health and Human Services, which regulates the FDA, and then they'll, hopefully, lift the ban. Ah, bureaucracy. The measure has support from medical groups like the Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks, as well a growing list of politicians: John Kerry and 17 other U.S. Senators signed a letter to the FDA calling the policy "outdated." Um, you think? The sad thing is that the FDA upheld the policy in 2000 and 2006, so just four years ago the agency was convinced this was a good idea.
Sure, the policy might have made some sense when it was first introduced considering gay men accounted for most of the cases of HIV/AIDS in the country and little was known about the virus or how to screen for it. And, yes, according to the CDC, gay men still account for more than half of the new cases of HIV in the country. But these days everyone is at risk and gay men are the only social group kept from giving blood entirely. And the technology used to detect HIV has become so advanced that the chances a recipient contracts the virus are "infinitesimal" according to Dr. Norbert Gilmore who just published a paper condemning the ban.
As the FDA says, this issue is about the safety of the patients, but now that contamination seems nearly impossible, not lifting the ban makes the FDA seem like those people who wouldn't even give a gay person a hug, something that was popular in, oh, 1983.