All around the world, guidelines for gay men donating blood seem to be shifting.
France is lifting its ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood, the French health minister announced Wednesday. According to France’s new rules, which will be implemented “gradually,” by spring of next year, men who have sex with men in France will be able to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man for 12 months. Late last month, The Netherlands updated its policy on blood donation to a very similar policy, lifting the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood in favor of a year of abstinence.
Here in the United States, the FDA policy regarding MSM is still an indefinite deferral, which means if a man has had sex with another man since 1977, neither man can donate blood. In May of this year, the FDA released revised recommendations for reducing HIV transmission through blood, a “guidance document” for “comment purposes only.” The goal was for a six month conversation about the current guidelines— rules that arose during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
The longstanding guidelines have been criticized by the gay community, with a major blowback manifesting itself in protests and art installations like Blood Mirror in New York City, a seven-foot tall sculpture that contains the blood of nine gay and bisexual men, encased in resin. One of the loudest voices of protest has been from the scientific community, and medical experts who refute the FDA’s claim that gay men are more likely to spread HIV by donating blood.
Art Caplan is Head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center ad the co-host of theEveryday Ethics podcast. He joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to discuss Planned Parenthood, the impact of the hearing, and the organization at the heart of a possible impending government shutdown. “Our policy is somewhere between ludicrous and absurd,” Medical Ethicist Art Caplan said in an interview with Boston Public Radio.
“We’re short on blood a lot, everybody hears the requests that they need blood donors, or they need blood donor types,” Caplan said.
So why do we still hold these regulations?
According to Caplan, “It’s fear, it’s bigotry, it doesn’t make any science sense...and we’re not excluding people as vigorously who might be engaged in other dangerous behaviors like visiting a lot of prostitutes, or having multiple partners.”
Caplan once served for four years as the chairman of the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety for the United States. “There were a lot of people harmed way back in the AIDS epidemic, they got AIDS when they were heavy blood users, hemophiliacs,” Caplan said. “They have to use blood all the time. That community is still very afraid of what it means to put some additional risk into the blood supply, and they have been dragging their feet. It’s not the Family Values Council, it’s an inside issue, a community that was harmed, and is still uncomfortable.”
Caplan says the blowback in France is understandable, because a full year is unnecessary. “The data shows if you’ve been celibate for more about three months, the test that we use routinely on the blood supply does pick up HIV,” he said. “Going to a year is just being extra cautious, and you could argue that.”
Medical Ethicist Art Caplan is Head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center ad the co-host of theEveryday Ethics podcast. To hear more of his interview with BPR, click on the audio link above.