Gay blood ban is lawful, says Finnish official

PinkNews Staff Writer June 30, 2008
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The Finnish Red Cross policy of banning men who have sex with men from donating blood should not be considered unlawful.

The country’s parliamentary ombudsman announced today that she had based her decision on expert opinions.

“These statements contain appropriately reasoned epidemiological information to the effect that sex between men clearly increases the risk of contracting serious blood-transmitted diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, and thereby increases the safety risk in blood transfusion,” Riitta-Leena Paunio said, according to Finnish News Agency STT.

“The ombudsman emphasises that the ban is not due to sexual orientation, which enjoys constitutional protection against discrimination, but rather to sexual behaviour.”

A similar ban in the UK has come under attack from gay rights activists.

Students, LGBT rights activists and politicians have all decried the bar on men who have had sex with men from donating.

Currently, a man who has ever had oral or anal sex with another man, even with a condom, is barred from donating blood for life because they are deemed to be more at risk of passing on sexually transmitted diseases.

Campaign group has branded current guidelines “outdated and discriminatory” and called for an overhaul of the policy.

However, Terrence Higgins Trust, a leading HIV and sexual health charity, providing services across England, Wales and Scotland, backs the National Blood Service.

“We support the current attitude of the NBS but we do think they could go a lot further to explain themselves,” Lisa Power, THT’s head of policy, told last month.

“I don’t blame people who don’t understand the ban and who think it is all about prejudice.

“99 times out of 100 when someone is told they can’t do something because they are gay, it’s prejudice.

“What the blood service does is something they have been afraid to admit in the past – they play the odds.

“They look at how much blood they need and they look at how many risks they have to take to get the blood, and they do not take any more risks than that.

“And although the risk is relatively low, there is a risk there.

“When we talk to people about this, they are surprised to find out that nobody from England can give blood in America.

“The odds that they play in America mean they do not need to take English blood and there is a tiny, and not dissimilar risk, of BSE from English blood.

“It wouldn’t matter if you were a vegetarian, they will not take the risk.

“For a vegetarian to be refused the chance to give blood in America is pretty much the same as a gay man would feel.”

“We support the blood service so long as they regularly review the evidence.”

The latest Health Protection Agency findings released by National AIDS Trust show diagnoses of heterosexuals infected in the UK have increased by 50 per cent since 2003.

Figures for the Health Protection Surveillance Centre for 2007 also reveal that of the newly diagnosed cases of HIV in 2007, 53% were acquired through heterosexual contact while only 21% were through male-to-male sexual contact.

Yusef Azad, Director of Policy and Campaigns at the NAT said:

“It is absolutely paramount that the blood supply is protected and it remains the case that gay men are the largest group affected by HIV in the UK.

“However, we do believe that the current rules should now be reviewed in the light of changes in practices in other countries, and alternatives such as a time limited ban be actively considered.”

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