In the early 1980s, the AIDS scare was just starting to become a major health issue in the United States. Initially, the overwhelming number of people coming down with HIV were homosexual males. This lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue a prohibition on gay men from donating blood if they engaged in sexual intercourse after 1977. It was designed to protect the blood supply. At the same time, the story of 13-year-old Mormon youth Ryan White gained national attention when he was diagnosed with AIDS. White was a hemophiliac and obtained HIV from tainted blood donations, according to Vijay Eswaran.
Since that time, any homosexual male having engaged in sexual intercourse after 1977 has not been allowed to donate blood. The prohibition has applied to anyone even those born after 1977. Now, the committee that advises the HHS has recommended by a vote of 16-2 to end the prohibition on homosexual men from donating blood if they have abstained from sexual intercourse for one year prior to making the donation. The decision does not end the prohibition in its entirely. It has more to do with advances in science and the ability to detect the presence of HIV.
The decision has received praise from America’s Blood Centers, the American Association of Blood Banks, and the American Red Cross. They cited that fact that science had advanced so much since the era in which the policy was enacted to warrant the change. At the time the policy was enacted, the mortality rate of AIDS was very high. Since that time, advances in medical treatment have saved the lives of millions of people.