BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — The FDA is revisiting its guidelines for blood donations. On Jan. 27, a proposed guidance was issued. The potential changes will be more inclusive to gay and bisexual men.

Dave Bentlin, Board President of Prairie Pride Coalition, is hopeful about the potential changes.

“There’s still some areas of that policy that are still not up to speed that should be reconsidered as well to make more people eligible,” said Bentlin.

According to the FDA’s website the proposed guidance would eliminate the deferral time for men who have sex with men or MSM. Under the current guidelines that were implemented in 2020, MSM must abstain from sexual activity for three months before donating.

“Primarily because we were getting into the COVID Pandemic period and blood donations were dropping precipitously and so the FDA decided they needed to relax the policy to get more blood donated and into the hospitals and into the medical facilities,” said Bentlin.

Donation eligibility will lean toward a risk assessment instead of being based on sexual orientation. In 1985 the FDA guideline-recommended blood collections agencies “indefinitely defer male donors who have had sex with another male, even one time, since 1977.” This was during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In 2015 the guidelines were changed, allowing MSM to donate blood but they had to abstain from sexual activity for 12 months.

“Over the period of years it’s gotten better and they take gradual steps toward making the policy better. But it’s still not a completely equitable policy for the gay and bisexual men,” Bentlin said.

Bentlin was able to donate blood for the first time in 2020.

“It was one of the most satisfying, rewarding opportunities I had as an individual to give back to society, to help someone who needs blood in order to save a life,” he said.

The American Red Cross has been an advocate for policy changes regarding blood donations based on sexual orientation. The following statement was released in response to the guidance recommendations:

“The American Red Cross is committed to achieving an inclusive blood donation process that treats all potential donors with equality and respect, and ensures a safe, sufficient blood supply is readily available for patients in need. We have received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s draft guidance regarding assessing risk for HIV and blood donations from gay and bisexual men. The Red Cross is pleased the FDA has proposed to determine blood donor-eligibility using a gender-inclusive, individual risk-based assessment regardless of sexual orientation. We are currently reviewing the updated guidance to fully understand its impact to our screening processes and how we will implement the changes once final guidance is issued. The Red Cross is committed to making these eligibility changes as quickly as possible however, development of a new industry health history questionnaire and implementation of the guidance requires coordination with multiple organizations including the FDA and the AABB. We will have more information on this timeline in the weeks ahead. The Red Cross has worked for many years to change the deferral policy concerning men who have sex with men (MSM) – this work included decades of data collection and assessment on the impact to transfusion safety, ongoing advocacy to eliminate donor questions based on sexual orientation, and our recent role as a leading contributor in the FDA-funded ADVANCE Study. There is more work to be done and we will continue to provide data to the FDA in support of further progress. The Red Cross also recognizes the hurt this policy has caused and that these are just the first steps in repairing relationships with the broader LGBTQ community. The FDA process will allow 60 days for public comment on this draft guidance, and we encourage individuals to share their feedback during this period.”

The American Red Cross

Bentlin said in the spring, Prairie Pride Coalition plans to co-sponsor a blood drive with the Red Cross and Bloomington’s Hope Church to raise awareness about the FDA’s blood donation guidelines.