It’s time for the United States government to review its policy on the lifetime ban of blood donations by men who have sex with men (MSMs), according to an opinion piece published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, and the American Association of Blood Banks have opposed the ban as “medically and scientifically unwarranted,” wrote Eli Y. Adashi, MD, MS, and colleagues.

The lifetime ban of blood donation by MSMs was first introduced in 1983, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. The lifelong ban of sexually active MSMs as prospective blood donors “served a useful purpose at a point in time when the ascertainment of HIV status was not possible,” wrote the researchers.

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HIV testing technology has advanced to a point that can ascertain infection within weeks, and more effective screening tools have focused on risk stratification and individualization are now available.

“While sexually active MSMs face a lifetime ban, men who have had sex with commercial sex workers or with HIV-positive women are deferred for no more than 12 months since the sexual encounter before regaining eligibility,” wrote the authors.

Despite outcries from various medical associations, and a bipartisan group of elected officials, the Department of Health and Human Services reaffirmed the ban in December 2013.

With more attention being paid to gay rights in the wake of the Defence of American Marriage act struck down in 2013 by the United States Supreme Court, authors expect more legal attention to be paid to the blood ban.

Should the FDA reconsider its lifetime ban on blood donations by sexually-active men who have sex with men?

Legally, the lifelong ban may not even be constitutional under the equal protection guarantee reaffirmed in the United States versus Windsor, the SCOTUS decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

“Viewed in the aggregate, the current FDA policy may be promoting outdated homophobic perceptions,” wrote Adashi and colleagues.


  1. Adashi E et al. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2014; doi: 10.1001/jama.2014.8037