France is gradually relaxing its exclusion of gay men as blood donors, starting with a 12-month deferral.

Story highlights

French health minister says the ban will be relaxed, starting in spring 2016

Minister: "We are marking a new step in the fight against all forms of discrimination"

CNN  — 

France is lifting its ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood, the French health minister announced Wednesday.

“Giving blood is an act of generosity, of citizenship, which cannot be conditioned to sexual orientation. While respecting complete patient safety, today we are ending a taboo and discrimination,” the minister, Marisol Touraine, said in a speech.

The change would be introduced gradually, she said, following extensive work by health authorities, patient associations and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender donors.

By spring 2016, men who have sex with men in France will be able to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man for 12 months.

Touraine said the 12-month deferral matched restrictions in place in other developed countries such as Australia, the Netherlands and Japan. Spain and Italy were among those countries with deferral periods of less than a year, she said, while Germany, Austria, Belgium and Denmark permanently excluded men who had sex with men from donating blood.

The United Kingdom lifted its ban in 2011, introducing a 12-month deferral period.

Plasma study

Men in France who haven’t had sex with another man in the four months before donating – or who have had only one partner – will be able to donate their plasma via a secure quarantine process starting in the spring, the minister said.

The plasma donation will act as a “real life” study for health authorities who will assess the process for about a year, Touraine said.

“The plasma supply chain will allow the freezing of blood donations, so that donors can be tested again, once the window has passed for HIV antibodies to appear,” she said.

If the study demonstrates no additional risk, then donation rules for men who have sex with men will be brought into line with those for the general population, she said.

The French ban started in 1983.

“Today it’s not a question of passing judgment on this choice, which was made in an era marked by the dramatic development of AIDS and contaminated blood, and in which only safety of the blood was taken into account. Yet today no one can deny that this exclusion is seen as the presumption of homosexuals being HIV-positive,” Touraine said.

She said all citizens would now be able to donate blood regardless of their sexual orientation: “We are marking a new step in the fight against all forms of discrimination, especially sexual, of which some of our citizens are victims.”

Policy in the United States

Since the 1980s, the United States has excluded men who have sex with other men from donating blood. However, in December 2014, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said that the agency recommended replacing the permanent ban with a 12-month deferral period.

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and the FDA would monitor a national blood surveillance system to see any effects of the proposed policy change and to ensure the continued safety of the blood supply, Hamburg said.

Read: FDA plan: Gay men who abstain from sex may be allowed to give blood

The FDA released draft guidance in May asking for feedback from the public and other stakeholders by July 14, 2015.

The current lifetime ban dates to 1983 and forbids men who have had sex with men from becoming blood donors because the group is “at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion,” the FDA has ruled.