News and Commentary

FDA Considering Dangerous Position: Looser Laws About Gay Blood Donations

On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided to put more Americans at risk: the department said it will consider changing the laws that prohibit gay men from donating blood for a year after their last sexual encounter to a position that would be based on “individual risk assessemtns.’

Last December, the FDA eliminated a 30-year ban on all blood donations from men who have sex with men, arguing that an indefinite ban was not necessary to prevent transmission of HIV.

The FDA revealed on the Federal Register that it would create a public docket for comment about its current recommendations, and lauded the idea of suggestions from the public, asserting such suggestions “could include the feasibility of moving from the existing time-based deferrals related to risk behaviors to alternate deferral options, such as the use of individual risk assessments.”

The FDA was prompted by 115 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Democrat Mike Quigley, vice chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. Quigley wrote to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf to urge him to jettison the current policy, arguing it discriminated against gay men.

After the FDA announcement on Tuesday, Quigley was elated, gushing, “The tragedy at Pulse nightclub in Orlando highlighted the discrimination gay and bisexual men face when attempting to donate blood to those in need. Moving towards an individual risk assessment would provide for a fair, equitable, nondiscriminatory blood donation policy, one based in science that allows all healthy Americans to safely donate blood.”

But statistics argue that opening up donations to gay men is terribly problematic, as Chris Stucchio points out. The following statistics were culled from his analysis.

The probability of a randomly selected straight person having HIV is 0.2%. The probability of a randomly selected gay person: 36%.

“In short, allowing gay people to donate blood is nearly as dangerous as letting straight people donate blood and then not testing it.”

Chris Stucchio, decrying the looser laws about gay blood donations

Stucchio writes, “According to the Wikipedia article on HIV testing, modern tests have a sensitivity of 99.7% and specificity of 98.5%. What this means is that if a person is known to be infected, then the test has a 99.7% chance of reporting that they are infected. Similarly, if a person is not infected, then the test has a 98.5% chance of reporting a negative.”

Stucchio continues: “Now let’s consider two people – one gay, one straight – who have donated blood. Their blood has been tested and the result is negative. What is the probability that the blood is infected?”

The answer he comes up with is this: “Getting 2 pints of blood from 2 independent gay men with negative HIV results is roughly as dangerous as getting 1 pint of untested blood from a straight man … In short, allowing gay people to donate blood is nearly as dangerous as letting straight people donate blood and then not testing it.”