Today, the Republic of Ireland has lifted the lifetime ban on gay or bisexual men donating blood.
Previous to this, men who had sex with men were banned for life from donating blood, a policy which was brought into place during the height of the AIDS crisis and is very outdated now with the advances that have been made.
According to the Irish Times, following a review from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service Board, the lifetime ban was lifted today. However, there is a very familiar restriction in place – in order to donate, gay or bisexual men must refrain from same-sex relations for 12 months.
While lifting the absolute ban is a huge step, it’s disappointing to see the sadly familiar (and frankly draconian) limitation in place, especially since all donated blood is routinely checked for HIV and other STDs.
Health Minister Simon Harris had this to say: “The IBTS provides a safe, reliable and robust blood service to the Irish health system and has the necessary programmes and procedures in place to protect both donors and recipients of blood and blood products.”
“Furthermore, the IBTS will continue to keep all deferral policies under active review in the light of scientific evidence, emerging infections and international experience. “Only 3% of the eligible population of Ireland are active blood donors – yet 1 in 4 people will require a blood transfusion at some time in their lives.”
“In June of last year, I accepted the recommendations of the IBTS to change their blood donation deferral policies for men who have sex with men, as well as for donors who have had a sexually transmitted infection. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the IBTS for their work over the past 6 months which today sees these recommendations brought to fruition within the timescale agreed.”
The policy brought into place in Ireland does bring them in line with countries such as the UK and Canada, but they are still behind other countries which have much better policies in place. For instance, some countries screen blood donors based upon their individual risk, rather than having blanket restrictions placed upon gay or bisexual men.
Basically, this means that those in monogamous same-sex relationships are excluded from screening and can donate blood.
“In Italy, donors are asked to refrain from giving blood if they have been involved in sexual activities that have a high risk of HIV transmission. Spain asks donors if they have engaged in specific risky sexual behaviour in the last six months. Merely being gay is not grounds for automatic deferral in those countries. All potential donors, regardless of race, age, creed or the gender of their sexual partners, should be questioned about any risky sexual behaviour.”
I think we can all agree with the above paragraph, and that would be a much more sensible and much less exclusionary practice for blood donation at no extra risk.