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"It's just really affirming": FDA will "likely" end policy banning gay men from donating blood

FDA will "likely" end policy banning gay men from donating blood
FDA will "likely" end policy banning gay men from donating blood 01:51

MINNEAPOLIS – A new national policy looks like it's coming soon for blood donations that would allow more people to give and likely save more lives.

An FDA rule from the 1980s banned gay men from donating blood. The policy was aimed at reducing the spread of HIV.

And while the blanket ban has given way to looser restrictions in recent years, the FDA says it's now "likely" those rules will be eliminated altogether.

"It's just really affirming," said Christopher Johns, a University of Minnesota medical student. "It's nice to see that we're finally advancing medicine in the direction that it should be going."

Johns has published research about the willingness of gay men to donate blood. He estimates a policy change could lead to millions of new donors.

Johns is gay, and says he donated blood before he came out and was no longer allowed to.  

IV blood bag and saline drip on hospital stand
Getty Images

"Now that we have technologies and advancements and safe sex practices, this policy is really questionable nowadays," he said.

For one, blood can be reliably tested for HIV now, although it's not perfect.

As an alternative to broad rules about gay men, the FDA would likely move to asking every potential donor narrower questions about their individual HIV risk levels. That's what Canada, Italy and the UK do.

"It's more precise, or we hope it's more precise," said Dr. Jed Gorlin, the vice president and medical director for Minnesota's Memorial Blood Center. "It's not un-invasive. You are asking people about their sex lives."

The Minnesota Department of Health endorses scrapping the rules about gay men. MDH signed on to a national letter from health professionals addressed to the FDA that said the policy "unnecessarily restricts the eligible donor population" and is "ineffective, unnecessary and discriminatory."

The FDA didn't set an exact timeline for the change, but indicated it could be in the next few months.

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