UK Revises Lifetime Gay Blood Donor Ban


UK health authorities this week revealed that, as of November 7, the lifetime ban on sexually active gay men donating blood will be retired and replaced with a deferral period limiting the ban to gay men who have had sex with another man in the past year. This applies to England, Wales and Scotland, with Northern Ireland expected to make a decision on their ban in the coming months.

The lifetime ban was introduced in the UK in the 1980s in response to the AIDS crisis.

Recently, however, the ban has been a target for equality and health campaigners who say the ban is discriminatory and is not justifiable given the latest risk calculations and new screening methods. This led the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs to review the ban, and the Committee has now concluded that the lifetime ban can be retired.

From the BBC:

Committee member Prof Deirdre Kelly said the safety of the blood supply is “absolutely essential” and that any restrictions “must be based on the latest scientific evidence”.

She said there had been advances in the testing of donated blood which had significantly reduced the chance of errors and had reduced the size of the “window period”.

She said the data showed that “the risk from a 12-month deferral was equivalent to permanent deferral” so “the evidence does not support the maintenance of a permanent ban”.

Among other countries to retire their lifetime ban, Australia last year reduced the deferral period to one year. A year on, research says there has been no significant increase in HIV infections as a result of this change.

The year deferral, health authorities argue, is still necessary however because there is a period of about twelve months in which new HIV and hepatitis B infections can be hard to detect.

While campaigners have praised the UK’s action to end the lifetime ban, they have also pointed out it remains discriminatory to blanket ban gay men — even those in committed and monogamous relationships — while heterosexuals are not given the same restrictions.

From the Independent:

“We recognise this move as a step in the right direction,” [said Ben Summerskill of gay rights group Stonewall]. “However, Stonewall will continue to push for a donation system based on the real risks. People wanting to donate blood should be asked similar questions irrespective of their sexual orientation.”

Andy Wasley, editor in chief of So So Gay magazine, called for hepatitis B to be included in the national vaccination programme, as in most countries in Europe, and for “more precise selection criteria” to be used in identifying high-risk potential donors.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) recently said that it would re-examine the US’s blanket blood donation ban on men who have sex with other men (MSM). Any man that has had sex with another man since 1977, no matter how infrequently or safely, is permanently barred from donating under the current policy.

Canadian Blood Services and its counterpart Héma Québec are also said to be reconsidering their bans.

Related Reading:

Equal Visitation Rights in Hospitals Boosted

HRSA Gives $248,000 to LGBT Health Institute

Appeals Court Preserves Arizona Same-Sex Health Benefits

Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution license, with thanks to mattbuck4950.


Norma V.
Norma Villarreal6 years ago

These bans should be for medical reasons, not homophobic and discriminatory beliefs.

Berny P.
Berny p6 years ago

I love it when England gets it right!

you cant be to careful!

Tom Y.
Tom Y6 years ago

Very bad move -- it's how politics can and will betray science! I suspect the year-long ban will soon be swept aside altogether, and Britain's blood supply will become the vector for disease transmission that the ban on gay blood donation was erected to prevent. Is mollifying some screaming activist's hurt feelings worth this outcome?

Manuela C.
Manuela C6 years ago

That was really a stupid law...

Kathleen D.
Kathleen D6 years ago

Of course all blood donations are checked, but their is still the window period, and even with "significanlty reduced" problems, there still ARE problems. Each time I donate, I have to answer a myriad of questions, and I don't mind because I would want to know that should I ever require a blood transfusion, the same prudence was exercised with the person donating the blood I was receiving. Furthermore, it is not discrimatory, it is taking measure for ensuring the liability of the facility supplying blood products is greatly minimized. We cannot return to a time when HIV becomes more prevalent through blood transfusions because we don't want to be attacked as discriminating.

Empress Ginger
Ginger Strivelli6 years ago

Sadly they do not have tests toc atch any and every bug that can be in the blood supply, and there are some diseases that effect gay people at a higher percentage people do generally have a higher number of sex partners...young college age single men would be in that same 'higher rotation' danger zone...all things being equal a blood donor who is a married middle aged female would be safer than others due to her haivng only one sexual partner, who hopefully as well only has sex with her. Rather than a young single guy (of homosexual or heterosexual type) who more likely is sleeping with multiple partners who have multiple partners.
But all bugs int he blood are not sexually based, many can be food borne or other exposure..and some groups due to diet or area they live in r such may be more prone to those bugs. The point is various people have various risks for having infected (with something) blood.
You can't rule out everyone, but you can make some rules about who is safer and who is a greater daughters and I were unable to give blood this last year because we'd traveled to India in the previous year...we didn't take THAT personally and be all offended, but gay people wan to see 'hate' and bias in the common sense rule to try to not take blood from those with higher rates of disease in their blood.
It's not a judgement on their sexual preference and more tan it was a judgement on my travel habits, it is just common sense to play the numbers and rule

Dana W.
Dana W6 years ago

I would hope that if I or anyone else received a transfusion or any other type of donated organs, etc., that everything would have been thoroughly tested beforehand. Growing up in Houston I went to a college downtown - the school paper always had a local blood bank ad offering cash for blood. Due to the location I'm sure there were alcoholics and drug users who sold blood too. Seems shortsighted and prejudiced to refuse much needed blood because of someone's sexual preference. My cousin can't ever donate blood because he was stationed with the Air Force in England during the Mad Cow disease outbreak years ago. How stupid is that?

Gemma M.

The only reasons for blood bans should be medical.

Carole H.
Carole H6 years ago

I too am confused on this. Are they saying that not all donations are checked? I cannot believe that is true. Or are they saying, as they appear to be, that as some strains of the new HIV and hepititis B are hard to detect in a period under one year, they are 'playing safe' by banning donations by gay men that have had sex within a one year period? If that is what they are saying then this is obviously flawed. 1. People lie (men and women) 2. Why only gay men that have had sex that is not only discriminatory but outright dangerous - I do not think these infections 'care' whether their carriers are male or female or how exactly they got infected. So this rule should be for all people and still depends on people's honesty and is actually quite scary.

Kathy Parsons
Kathy Parsons6 years ago

I love it when England gets it right!