A federal advisory committee on Thursday recommended for the first time that the U.S. soften its ban on blood donations from gay men.
Under the new recommendations, made by the U.S. Health and Human Services' Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability, gay men would be able to donate blood after a year of abstinence. Under the current rules, men who have had sex with other men are essentially banned for life from donating blood.
As Bloomberg News pointed out, the recommendations don't have a direct bearing on policy but the committee is considered to be a trusted source for federal guidelines. The Food and Drug Administration, who oversees the policy, will consider the findings next month after hearing from other experts and decide whether or not to make the changes.
Gay Blood Drive, a national advocacy group dedicated to changing the policy, called it a "HUGE step in the right direction!" But Human Rights Campaign said that the proposed changes don't go far enough and that the ban should instead be completely abolished.
"This recommendation -- although nominally better than the existing policy -- falls far short because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men, preventing them from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation,” HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy said.
The ACLU echoed their statements, saying that "it is promising to see that the U.S. appears poised to move away from the current lifetime ban that prevents gay and bisexual men from donating blood. However, the proposed one-year deferral will prevent two men who maintain a committed, monogamous relationship from ever donating blood. This proposed policy does not distinguish between high risk and safer sex practices.”
The controversial blood ban came into effect in the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS/HIV epidemic. Both gay rights advocates and medical groups have spoken out against the ban.
In a joint statement, the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers called the ban "medically and scientifically unwarranted."