Ban on homosexual blood donations lifted but men told they must be celibate

By Stephen Sumner

The lifetime ban on homosexuals making blood donations will be lifted on November 7.

However the proviso on their blood being accepted is that males have not been sexually active in the last 12 months.

These are the same restrictions as in Australia, where research showed there was no significant increase in the risk of HIV infection.

Ben Summerskill, the Chief Executive of Stonewall, a professional lobbying group for gay rights, said: “To retain a blanket ban on any man who has had sex with another man in the last year remains disproportionate.”

The lifetime ban on homosexuals giving blood was introduced in the 1980s in an effort to prevent the transmission of HIV from sexually active men.

The new conditions were introduced on the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs (SaBTO) which found that the ban was unjustifiable.

The committee said that the change would not increase the risk of transmission of HIV as it can now be identified sooner after infection, but there was a risk of hepatitis B transmission because it can remain dormant for months.

The period in which HIV and hepatitis B can be detected is far less than 12 months. For HIV it is up to 15 days, for hepatitis B, it is 66.

The new restrictions are still controversial, as they are only in place for gay men. Homosexuals have been assessed as being at an increased risk of carrying blood-borne viruses.

Yet a straight man who is promiscuous and does not use a condom is not subject to the same rules. He would not be questioned about his activities and would not be prevented from donating.

Summerskill argues: “People wanting to donate blood should be asked similar questions – irrespective of their sexual orientation – that accurately assess their level of risk of infection.”

SaBTO worries that introducing such screening questions to all donors would be intrusive, so it is a process which homosexuals alone will have to undergo.

A statement by NHS Blood and Transplant said that the blood supply is, and will remain, within the safest in the world.

Nosheel Rahi, manager of Taurus on Canal St is in a monogamous homosexual relationship and is not allowed to give blood.

He said that the new regulations were “shambolic,” because “a straight man could hook up with a different woman every night” and still be eligible. Now Rahi would rather not give blood on principle.

Asked whether he would be tempted to give blood regardless of his sexual activity, Steven Mepham, Chairman of the LGBT Society at MMU, said: “I could lie but I shouldn’t have to. It’s a war against stereotypes.” 

Regardless of the imperfect situation that has been reached, Stonewall has said it is ‘step in the right direction’.

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