The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is introducing new rules about who can donate sperm. Men that have had homosexual sex within the five years prior to them wanting to make an anonymous sperm donation will be prevented from doing so, as the FDA says that gay men are collectively more likely to be HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)-positive than other men. However, men who have had male sexual partners within the past five years would not be prevented from donating sperm to a friend or family member. Critics accuse the FDA of stigmatising gay men rather than putting in place a screening process that focuses on high-risk sexual behaviour by any potential donors, gay or straight.
The new rule is part of a set of regulations on tissue donation, which require tissue banks to test donors and donated tissues for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis and other diseases, as well as sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhoea, particularly for sperm and egg donation. Tissue banks will also be required to ask donors about their risk factors for such diseases. The only exceptions exist when cells or tissues are being transplanted back into the person who donated them or to their sexual partner or for people who are repeat anonymous sperm donors.
Gay rights groups have condemned the new regulations, saying that they are discriminatory and would be would be difficult to enforce. Ronald Johnson, associate executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, said the regulations lacked scientific merit: 'it is bad science because it injects a false sense of security and the impression the government is doing something, when in fact they are not taking the more effective way to do proper screening and protection', he said. He added that 'we feel that there are adequate and reliable screening procedures that ought to be in place rather than a blanket rule that discriminates against sexually active gay men as a whole category'.
Leland Traiman, director of Rainbow Flag Health Services, a sperm bank based in California, said: 'Under these rules, a heterosexual man who had unprotected sex with HIV-positive prostitutes would be OK as a donor one year later, but a gay man in a monogamous, safe-sex relationship is not OK unless he's been celibate for five years'. Instead, he proposed that donors could be tested for HIV at the time of donation, then the sperm frozen for six months and the donor tested again six months later to ensure sperm safety. But a spokeswoman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine said that 'you can't be too careful' with anonymous sperm donation, adding 'our concern is for the health of the recipient, not to let more and more people be sperm donors'. A spokesperson for the FDA said that the new regulations are based on 'scientific consideration'.