Should Homosexually Active Men Give Blood?
The BBC is reporting today about a petition to change the rules in Scotland on blood donation.
A petition by gay rights campaigners against what they believe is discrimination over who can give blood is to be considered by MSPs.
The LGBT Network said safe sex practices meant men who have had sex with other men could give blood.
The group stressed that there were no restrictions on heterosexual people who have unprotected sex giving blood.
The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service said it had a duty to make sure patients got the safest blood possible.
A spokesman for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Network said: "The blanket ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood is an outdated policy that was put in place decades ago when people believed Aids was an exclusively gay disease. We now know that this is far from the case. "There is no clinical reason for the blanket ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood.
"It is a policy from a bygone era, which unfairly discriminates.
I think this is the important point. Is the policy a hangover from previous, more promiscuous eras or a judgement made upon up-to-date scientific data.
I think it’s also important to point out that the phrase "The blanket ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood" is highly misleading. The ban is actually on any man who has engaged in penetrative sex with another man. In fact, on the ScotBlood website, the reason is explained as:
If your lifestyle puts you at risk of HIV or hepatitis
That means then that if you are gay but engage in non-penetrative sex with a single partner your lifestyle doesn’t put you at risk of HIV or Hepatitis.
"The SNBTS should instead focus on all donors’ unsafe sexual practices, rather than single out gay and bisexual men."
But Dr Brian McClelland, from the Scottish blood service, said: "Even the highly sensitive tests for hepatitis and HIV that are performed on every donation cannot completely exclude all risk of infection, so an essential first step – and a requirement of UK law – is to avoid collecting donations if there is evidence that the risk of blood-transmissible infections may be raised.
"The Blood Services of the UK, like those in most European countries, USA and Canada, do not accept donations from men who report that they have had sex with another man.
"Over 60% of all the HIV diagnoses where the infection was likely to have been acquired in the UK were in gay men.
I think this is the key. Since the testing of blood cannot give a 100% guarantee of spotting HIV infection, one way to limit the chance of infection is to not take donations from clearly definable groups who, on average, have a higher rate of HIV infection than the normal population. That has nothing to do with homophobia and has everything to do with good public health.
"Other infections that are sexually transmitted and also transmitted by blood, such as hepatitis B and syphilis, are also increasing among men who have sex with men. Syphilis increased 117% from 2002 to 2006."
Dr McClelland said research continued to show that removing the current bar on donations by men who have sex with men would lead to an increase in the very small risk of HIV transmission due to infections in the very early stage that may be impossible to detect.
It would be interesting if any of my readers could point to UK data that showed relative infection rates amongst gay identifying men and other groups.
He added that donor selection rules were kept under regular review by the UK national advisory committee and any anticipated developments in testing and processing would be taken into account in these reviews.
The issues are to be examined by the Scottish Parliament’s petition committee on Tuesday.
Let’s see what the committee’s reponse was. I’ll report here as soon as I find out.