A team of investigators in the online edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal has argued that the lifetime ban on gay men giving blood should be replaced with a deferral for those who have been in a stable, monogamous relationship for at least one year. In Canada, the USA and the UK, gay men and any other men who partake in sex with men are permanently banned from giving blood.
The ban in North America was introduced in 1983 after thousands of people were infected with HIV after receiving blood infected with the virus, which at the time managed to evade the ineffective screening process. The UK also introduced the law in the early 1980s.
But the Canadian investigators argue that the ban is archaic with the coming of advanced HIV-testing technology and that replacing the ban with a one-year deferral would mean that only one HIV-infected unit of blood per 11 million would enter the blood supply. Evidence given to a Tasmanian Tribunal back in 2008 suggested that if gay men who practised safe sex were allowed to donate, one HIV-postive blood donation would be likely to slip through the clinical screening process once every 5, 769 years. LGBT and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell pointed out: “That’s once between now and the year 7778”.
The investigators claimed that although the ban was entirely justified in the early 1980s, it is now out of date and flawed. Arguments in favour of keeping the ban have been justified on the grounds of samples falsely testing negative entering the blood supply.
One-year deferrals are currently the law in Sweden, Australia and Japan, among other countries. However, the likelihood of this policy being adopted in the UK any time soon appears slim, as the country’s largest HIV support organisation and charity, the Terence Higgins Trust, supports the current ban.