New York City–based AIDS service organization Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) has released a report called “A Drive for Change: Reforming U.S. Blood Donation Policies.” It calls for a new federal policy that assesses whether a donor’s behavior—not his or her sexual orientation—is high risk for HIV.
In response to the burgeoning AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instituted a policy in 1985 barring any man who has had sexual contact with another man—even once—since 1977 from donating blood, regardless of his HIV status. Since men who have sex with men (MSM) were the hardest hit by HIV/AIDS when the epidemic began, it was believed that prohibiting them from donating blood outright would protect the blood supply and prevent medical HIV transmission through blood transfusions.
“Many policies adopted toward HIV a quarter century ago were based on fear, prejudice, homophobia and ideology—not science and compassion,” Sean Cahill, PhD, one of the report’s editors and managing director of public policy, research and community health at GMHC, told POZ. “GMHC believes that it is time to reexamine the lifetime ban on all gay and bisexual male blood donors, explore alternatives to this policy that would expand the pool of blood donors, and at the same time guarantee the safety of our nation’s blood supply.”
“Public policy should be based on science, knowledge and the latest technological advances—not prejudice, ignorance and outdated beliefs,” Cahill added. “The blanket lifetime ban on gay male blood donors is not sound public policy in 2010.”