US Blood Donation Ban on Gay Men not Scientifically Justified

Losing Support Among US Blood Banks

October 15, 2001 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

(WASHINGTON, DC) – A new study by a member of an advisory council to the National Insitutes of Health concludes that the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood in the United States is not scientifically justified, is losing support among the nation's blood banks, and lone resistance to changes to the policy by the American Red Cross may be for "strictly financial reasons" rather than being in the best interests of the American public, despite chronic blood shortages each year.

The new study, entitled "THE GIFT OF LIFE: Gay Men and US Blood Donation Policy," was written by Bob Roehr, an independent journalist and medical writer who serves on the Council of Public Representatives (COPR), and advisory body to the Director of the National Institutes of Health. The study was published today by the Liberty Education Forum, a Washington-based think-tank.

Under the policy adopted in 1985, in the wake of the discovery of HIV, gay men who have had sexual relations at least once since 1977 are automatically excluded from donating blood, while heterosexuals who have engaged in the same sexual acts are restricted for a period of months but then allowed to donate. The policy, Roehr writes, sets a double standard based on status, not sexual activity, making the policy discriminatory and scientifically inconsistent.

"The gay ban differs from every other blood policy exclusion in two significant ways," Roehr writes. "First, it is based on a person's status rather than acts that put them at risk for infection. Second, it reflects a double standard where the same risky acts performed by heterosexuals brings a temporal restriction that generally is limited to 12 months, while a gay man is banned for life."

Roehr also documents the growing support among the nation's blood banks for modifications to the policy. In testimony at a watershed meeting of the FDA Blood Products Advisory Committee in September 2000, where the FDA was reviewing possible modifications to the gay ban, the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) strongly advocated changes, and America's Blood Centers (ABC), which collects nearly half of all the nation's blood supply, also supported modifications. The American Red Cross (ARC) stood alone in opposing any change. Roehr reviews reports that the Red Cross opposes changes for financial reasons, and seeks to market itself as the "safest" source of blood through a policy which is not scientifically justified. BPAC support for changing FDA policy failed at that meeting by only one vote.

"What motivates the American Red Cross to maintain its opposition to changing the policy? Their rhetoric focuses on maintaining minimal risk within the blood supply, but that is at odds with the policy of the AABB to which many of their professional members belong," Roehr writes. "It seems likely that money, marketing, and sheer arrogance are factors contributing to ARC's maintenance of the policy."

Roehr also outlines several recommended changes which would update the policy, bring greater scientific consistency, and promote increased supply, which is a major priority of the nation's blood banks.

The Liberty Education Forum (LEF) is a Washington-based think tank dedicated to new insights on gay and lesbian issues from a centrist perspective. The study is published on the LEF website at

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