England, Scotland, and Wales will lift a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood, a restriction instituted in the 1980s but one not supported by scientific studies on blood supply safety.
The BBC reports that government ministers have agreed to allow men who have sex with men (MSM) to donate if they have not engaged in sexual activity within the past 12 months, effective in November (earlier this year, the U.K. had considered putting a 10-year deferral on MSM blood donation). Northern Ireland is expected to issue its own decision on the matter in the near future.
Citing recent research — including a December article in the journal Transfusion that found no evidence of increased HIV infection risk resulting from a 12-month deferral policy in Australia — the U.K.’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues, and Organs argued earlier this year that the lifetime ban could no longer be scientifically supported.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration’s lifetime ban on MSM donors remains in effect, despite efforts by advocates, blood bank organizations, and lawmakers to overturn it. Last year an advisory committee voted against recommending that the MSM donation policy be changed, though committee members also voted that the current restrictions are “suboptimal” and recommended further research into distinguishing between high- and low-risk donors, regardless of sexual orientation.
Read the BBC report here.
Update: British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell issued the following statement on the blood donation policy change:
"Although the new policy is a big improvement on the existing discriminatory rules, a 12 month ban is still excessive and unjustified. Most gay and bisexual men do not have HIV and will never have HIV. If they always have safe sex with a condom, have only one partner and test HIV negative, their blood is safe to donate. They can and should be allowed to help save lives by becoming donors."