Current Affairs

Scots Parliament considers gay blood ban

Tony Grew April 15, 2008
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A petition calling for an end to the blanket ban on blood donations from gay men will be considered by the Scottish Parliament today.

The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) maintains that it is not a question of being gay or bisexual but the risk involved.

Rob McDowall, who has led the campaign against the ban, said:

“Blood has no sexual preference and being gay does not mean that you sleep about and have serial sexual partners.”

The SNBTS does not recognise safe sex practices among men who have sex with men (MSM) as safe, despite the rapidly rising HIV infections among heterosexuals.

UK’s National Blood Service (NBS) also bars men who have had sex with other men from donating blood, even if they used a condom.

A statement on their website says: “It is specific behaviours, rather than being gay, which places gay men at increased risk of HIV infection.

“Safer sex will keep most gay men free from infection, however research shows that allowing gay men as a group to donate blood would increase the risk of HIV infected blood entering the blood supply.

“Abolishing the rule for gay men would increase the risk of HIV infected donations entering the blood supply by about five times, and changing the rule to allow gay men to donate one year after they last had sex with another man would increase the risk by 60 per cent.”

Mr McDowall and other will go before the petitions committee of the Scottish Parliament this afternoon. The campaign has cross-party backing.

“In responses to both oral and written questions, the Public Health Minister has refused to acknowledge any hint of discrimination against gay men or committed to improve the testing regime for blood given by donors,” said Ross Finnie MSP, Liberal Democrats Health spokesperson.

“This was not a call to take risks with the quality of donated blood, but a suggestion to update the method of testing.

“I remain very concerned at the continuing blanket discrimination against gay men who are debarred for donating blood, and I cannot believe that the Advisory Committee is recommending no change.

“I am really disappointed by this narrow minded attitude, especially given the current crisis in blood donation levels.”

A spokesperson for Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson questioned why the NBS accepts blood from Australia, where there is no ban on gay donors, while barring them in Scotland.

“The point they make is that to take samples from a group of ‘high-risk’ donors would be too dangerous, especially when the blood would be distributed to many recipients,” she said.

Scottish National Party MEP Alyn Smith said:

“For my part, I would be supportive of any moves to broaden the pool of blood donors to a large a group as possible.

“I would think that lifting our ban is in all out interest for a number of reasons.”

Mr Mc Dowall told

“Being gay doesn’t prevent me from paying tax, using public transport or working in a responsible position, full time, so why should it prevent me from giving the gift of life?

“The culture of binge drinking, multiple sexual partners and the acceptance of “the male player” stereotype is all playing part in the massive increase of HIV and AIDS amongst the heterosexual community.”

“In 2005, more than 2,500 HIV infections were newly diagnosed in men who had sex with men,” Gerard Gogarty, Head of Service Quality at the National Blood Service, said in a letter to MSP Struan Stevenson.

“(that is) the is the largest annual number reported to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) since the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic more than 25 years ago, and is clear evidence as a group to be at an increased risk of acquiring HIV and a number of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), many of which are carried in the blood.

“It is specific behaviours, which place some people to be at increased risk of HIV infection and for gay men this can be up to 10 times higher, but is much less amongst men and women in heterosexual relationships even after sex with a third party who is at higher risk of infection.

“However, it is not practical to expect donor session staff to be able to differentiate between lower or higher risk behaviours, so all men who have had sex with other men have to be excluded.”

The blood transfusion services were excluded from the Sexual Orientation Regulations, allowing them to continue to discriminate against gay men.

According to Section 28 of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations ‘it is not unlawful for a blood service to refuse to accept a donation of a person’s blood where that refusal is determined by an assessment of risk to the public based on – clinical, epidemiological data obtained from a source on which it was reasonable to rely.’

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