The UK Government announced today that the rules on men who have sex with men (MSM) donating blood will change from a lifetime ban to a 12 month deferral period in England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland. This decision follows a review of the current policies around exclusion and deferral from blood donation by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).
In addition to the UK action the European Commission have said that the life time ban may be against EU Law. John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, explained that EU law warranted the deferral of those “at high risk of acquiring severe infectious diseases” due to their “sexual behaviour”. Mr. Dalli underlined that “‘sexual behaviour’ is not identical with ‘sexual orientation’”.
The Commission also noted that when implementing EU law, Member States must not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. This means a blanket ban on all gay and bisexual men would be illegal under EU law
John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project today said ‘We welcome the move by the UK government to change the rules on MSM donating blood, however we feel they do not go far enough and can’t understand why once again Northern Ireland has been left out in the cold. There is no recognition within these changes for couples who are in long term relationships, only having sex with each other and therefore not at risk of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections’.
He continued ‘The LGB&T community in Northern Ireland should not have to rely on the Courts and the EU to implement key changes on equality matters. The Minister for Health needs to make his intentions around these changes clear and this needs to be done immediately. Blood banks continue to struggle to meet demand in Northern Ireland and despite this, archaic legislation still exists banning some of the populations from donating blood’.
He concluded ‘The Rainbow Project will continue to lobby and campaign for the full removal of the MSM blood ban and the introduction of new safeguards that ensure any risk to those receiving blood donations is removed, but also so that anyone whose blood is not of any risk to others are able to donate blood’.
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