Ban the ban: A scientific and cultural analysis of the FDA’s ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men

Berkman, R. T. Winston; Zhou, Li

In recent years, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual Queer (LGBTQ) community has experienced a number of triumphs. From the end of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the political and social landscape in the United States is becoming more inclusive of homosexuality.1 While there still remain many discriminatory practices, a particularly egregious one is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In addition to being societally regressive, this policy frustrates efforts to overcome the nation’s blood shortage. In May 2015, the FDA released a draft guidance document suggesting a shift from the existing lifetime ban to a twelve-month deferral period. While this is a progressive step in the right direction, the new regulation would require donors to remain celibate for twelve months prior to donation, which maintains the categorical association between gay sex, risky sex, and HIV. This updated policy is as discriminatory as the lifetime ban and will not significantly increase the number of eligible donors. A shift away from a categorical and unnecessary ban towards a systematic and scientifically based series of tests and screenings that focus on indicators of risky sex would grow America’s pool of blood donors without increasing the risk of transfusion-related transmission of HIV. Support within the academic community and populations unaffected by the ban would be effective strategies to challenge and ultimately demand the ban’s complete removal.


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Columbia Medical Review

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Academic Units
College of Physicians and Surgeons
Columbia University
Published Here
August 25, 2015