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Ban on gay blood donations not lifted
“Ban on gay blood donation lifted”, claims the headline. Not quite.
For more than twenty years, the UK Blood transfusion service has imposed a lifetime ban on any man who admits to have ever having sexual relations with another man from donating blood. This is on the assumption that gay men are likely to be infected with the AIDS virus, and that even though blood is thoroughly screened before being used in patients, even though the chance of infected blood making it through the screening process is around one in four million, one can never be too careful.
Many campaigners (Peter Tatchell, for example) have always seen this as being hurtful and discriminatory, as well as medically unnecessary. Its effectiveness was also open to question, since research has suggested that, ban or no ban, gay men form a higher proportion of blood donors than the population average. The Sunday Telegraph reported earlier this year that around seven per cent of sexually active gay men are thought to give blood despite the ban. This compares with around 5% of the eligible population.
But no-one ever talks about that. The polite fiction is maintained that because gay men (or, to be strictly accurate, men who have had more than zero same-sex contacts in the course of a lifetime) obey the rules and don’t try to donate blood. It’s important to note this, however, since it points to more than the widespread flouting of the ban. It also provides independent confirmation that the ban is not needed. (Where are the cases of contaminated blood being passed onto patients as a result of breaches of the rule?)
So, will today’s news be a cause for celebration among gay men, who are now allowed to donate blood? I rather doubt it.
Instead of the lifetime ban, it will in future only apply for twelve months. Thus a gay man, or a bisexual man, or a normally heterosexual man who got drunk and curious once upon a time, will be able to give blood provided he hasn’t had sex with any other man for over a year.