Britain To Change Gay Male Blood Donation Policy To Slightly Different Version Of The Same Policy

Proposed changes to the blood donation rules in Britain will allow gay men, who have been banned for years due to concerns about HIV, to give blood — as long as they haven’t had sex in ten years. The Red Cross and two other blood groups in the US call FDA-imposed US ban “scientifically unwarranted,” but still these dudes are prevented from eating cookies, almost fainting, and getting a free sticker just like the rest of the people who want to help other people to stay alive and so forth.

The changes are expected to be announced by Anne Milton, the public health minister, within the next few weeks. Milton is supported by the health secretary and the equalities minister. However, several HIV charities have been surprised that such an announcement might take place before a review, due to end before the fall, is completed. According to Pink News, the National AIDS Trust and Stonewall were not aware of the policy change. The Terrence Higgins Trust, another charity, said it would not comment until the review is completed and its stance would be “absolutely based on that evidence.”

via slapupsidethehead.com

 

 

The review, which began in 2009, is being conducted by the Safety of Blood, Tissues, and Organs advisory committee, which is expected to report its findings this summer.

Every blood donation in Britain is screened for HIV and other diseases, but the blood banks want to be extra-extra careful because there can be a gap between when an infection is contracted and when it would show up during a screening. The system also relies on self-reporting of factors that make donors ineligible — current estimates suggest that 7% of sexually active gay men donate despite the ban. But assuming gay men are more likely to lie than others is blatantly discriminatory, says Caroline Crampton:

“Yes, men who have sex with men are a high risk group for HIV/AIDS. People lie about their sexual practices, their drug use and their medical history — all of which could potentially lead to infected blood ending up in the blood bank. But homosexual people are no more likely to lie about these things than heterosexual people, and to assume otherwise is unacceptable discrimination… men who have safe sex with other men, including men in civil partnerships or committed relationships, are still being discriminated against… [the move is] supremely bloody homophobic, extremely discriminatory and potentially dangerous for thousands of patients in need of transfusions. The inequality has just got worse, not better.”

Right now, the donor screening process asks “Please don’t give blood if you THINK you need a test for HIV or Hepatitis or if you have had sex in the past year with someone you think may be HIV positive or Hepatitis positive.” It also lists the following criteria:

Have you tested positive for HIV or do you think you may be HIV positive? (Y / N)

Have you ever had Hepatitis B or think you may have it now? (Y / N)

Have you ever had Hepatitis C or think you may have it now? (Y / N)

Are you a man who has ever had oral or anal sex with a man, with or without a condom? (Y / N)

 

If you answer yes to any of those questions, you are just gonna have to keep your homogay blood to yourself.

Similar restrictions on blood donation are in place in other countries. In Canada, male donors who “have had sex with a man, even one time, since 1977″ are disqualified, and so are women who have had sex with a man who’s slept with a man. Last fall, a man who lied about his sexual orientation in order to donate blood was successfully sued by the Canadian Blood Services for negligent representation.

The US uses similar language, and the ban on gay blood donations was upheld last June when the Federal Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted 9 to 6 against lifting it, despite scientific research which reveals how obsolete the blood ban is.

Those who support the ban are concerned that the tests are not infallible; that it takes time for HIV to show up in blood tests; and that the increase in the donor pool provided by gay men would not be significant enough to offset the rise in the risk of accidental HIV positive transfusions (according to a 2003 study, letting men who have had sex with men donate would mean a 1.3% increase in donors but an 8% increase in potential HIV transmission).

Those who oppose the ban argue that it is discriminatory; that it’s a relic from when HIV was more difficult to test for and less well understood; that it’s unprotected sex, not gay sex, that leads to a higher chance of contracting HIV; that it can lead to a loss of dignity since gay sex is equated with unsafe sex; and that blood donors are in short enough supply as it is. Furthermore, blood drives are conducted often in workplaces and schools, which aren’t necessarily ideal places to have to answer to “Why didn’t you donate blood today?” especially if you’re not out.

In 2008, the Independent wrote on the UK’s blood ban, quoting US epidemiologist and bio-ethicist Dr. Scott Halpern:

“Some 1 in 100 people who are infused with blood older than 14 days will die – and 13 per cent of infused blood offered by the Red Cross is older than that. This, he explained, poses a risk “thousands of times greater” than “the very worst predictions of HIV infection” if you let latex-loving gay men donate. Why? Because if the ban is lifted and gay men who practice safe sex are allowed to donate, a single HIV-positive blood donation will slip through clinical screening once every 5,769 years. That’s one time between now and the year 7777 — or equivalent to it happening once since 3761 BC, when cities had not yet been invented.”

Isn’t it lovely how homosexuality inspires such pre-historical flights of fancy?  We trust blood donors to report if they’d had sex with a prostitute within the last year, if they’ve sniffed cocaine or had sex with anyone who sniffed cocaine within the last year or gotten a tattoo within the last year. The law was put into place back when HIV screening procedures were still in their elementary stages. (Sidenote, interesting fact: As of 2008, lesbians AND gay men were barred from donating blood in Shanghai.)

What do you think.

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Carolyn is the NSFW Editor for Autostraddle.com. She is also a freelance copy editor and writer, and her work has appeared in Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, the Billfold, and other places. Find her on twitter.

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30 Comments

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    ‘Isn’t it lovely how homosexuality inspires such pre-historical flights of fancy? We trust blood donors to report if they’d had sex with a prostitute within the last year, if they’ve sniffed cocaine or had sex with anyone who sniffed cocaine within the last year or gotten a tattoo within the last year’

    Yup. Although I can understand the blood agencies uneasiness to let HIV blood slip into their banks, it’s unfair to target only gay men for an outright ban. Plus since the whole affair is not very rigorous at all, can we really trust that people engaging in these risky behaviours (unprotected sex, drug use, etc.) are the ones honest enough to report it? I think not.

    With that in mind, I’m a bit startled that Canada bans women who have had sex with MSM from donating. Frankly, if I’m under the expectation that a guy is heterosexual, how am I supposed to know that he indulged in some MSM before dating me? So not only are bisexual men, gay men, and closeted men banned, but now their female partners (whether knowing or not)? Lots of concern with these implements, but I’ve never donated, so it’ll only become a personal issue once I need someone’s blood… Yoy.

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      Yeah, I found it really weird when I filled out a screening thing to donate and discovered I couldn’t give blood if I’d slept with a man who’d had sex with a man. I mean, there have got to be a lot of totally healthy women out there who can’t donate because of their partner’s history, no matter how safe they are, and a lot who probably won’t bother trying to donate because if you’ve ever had a short-term relationship or a one-night stand, chances are you don’t know that person’s sexual history. Or if you’ve been sexually assaulted, for that matter. And what if you’re a woman who’s had sex with another woman who’s had sex with a dude who’s had sex with another dude? If it’s considered risky to accept blood from those women, wouldn’t it be just as risky to accept it from their partners?

      …not that I’m advocating for their exclusion, obviously. It just makes the rules seem more ridiculous. I’m probably never going to be able to give blood, thanks to my epically low iron, but it’s kind of upsetting to know that I might not be able to save someone’s life because of regulations that are backed up by indefensible, homophobic pseudoscience.

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      actually this was me in high school. we had a blood drive and i marched on in and was ready to give my glorious blood away but then i was asked a bunch of questions eventually leading to “if you’ve had sex with anyone in the above categories” and one of the only two people i’d slept with at that point was a gay (with the exception of me) boy who’d had sex with other boys, obviously. so that was that. i think i went to lunch and sat with all the gay boys who’d been rejected from the blood drive talking about how now we didn’t have to worry about fainting because that was funnier than talking about homophobia or whatever.

      i’m lucky i went to a really accepting boarding school, if i’d gone through that at my public high school i think it would have been semi-humiliating and uncomfortable.

      BLOOODDDD

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      If you’ve had sex with a guy, you can’t be positive he hasn’t had sex with a guy. But it can filter out people who are positive their male partners HAVE had sex with a guy (women who know they’ve slept with queer or experimenting men).

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    I feel like if you haven’t had sex in 10 years that donating blood might not be at the top of your list of things to do, but I could be wrong.

    Also, the use of the word “bloody” in the phrase “supremely bloody homophobic” was pretty clever considering the topic was blood donation. I’m not sure whether that was intended or not, but I liked it.

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      As much as I loathe the Tories, I actually disagree with you there.

      Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dem) as Equalities Minister seems to be pushing for a lot of gay/trans issues, as evidenced by this earlier this week:
      http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2011/04/12/government-seeks-transgender-communitys-feedback/

      Which is just the latest in many pretty decent-sounding things she’s been touting during her tenure.

      Obviously it remains to be seen if any of these good intentions get pushed into action, but the fact we have someone who seems genuinely committed to this cause in an influential position gives us a lot more hope than, say, anyone in America.

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        Thanks for the link, it definitely sounds like Featherstone is doing some good things – I remember reading about the possiblity of gay marriages being allowed to take place in churches a few weeks ago, albeit with Rowan Williams being somewhat hostile to the idea (although I also read he personally sees nothing wrong with gay relationships &, as far as Churches go, the C of E is certainly fairly liberal). But I’m digressing…!

        Anyway, I guess it’s just my pessimism that these things will actually get pushed through in a coalition government with the Tories, but I agree there certainly is hope.

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    I completely disagree with the entire thing, obviously they should allow gay men to donate, the screening process should just be better. And that’s for everyone, not just for the gay dudes. I recently donated for the first time and they spent most of their time getting senior nurses to clear me because I had my nose pierced last June, took medication for period cramps on Thursday, went to New York in March and use acne medication twice daily. I mean really. They didn’t even double-check my answers for the sex things.

    Other than pregnancy. They remain oblivious as to why 17-year-old lesbian virgin me was reduced to tears of mirth when they asked me if I’d been pregnant in the last 9 months and if there was any chance I could be pregnant now.

    Which, um, NO.

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      It’s not like they can do a background check. And asking you the same questions over and over is probably going to elicit the same response most of the time so it wouldn’t be effective.

      And medical screenings are as good as they’re going to get in the immediate future.

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    my college sponsored HIV testing. on the information sheet it specifically said “HIV cannot be spread by blood transfusions”. like, in big, bold letters.

    i would have started a conversation about it with the nurse who was doing my blood work, but then i passed out and hit my head on the shelf, so…

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      Well that’s untrue. Screening by risk factors as well as testing (IIRC NAT is able to detect seroconversion 9 days after exposure) does an excellent job of preventing such transmission but it does occur.

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    I’m a monthly platelet donor. I love that there is the “ever had sex with a man who has had sex with another man” but they could give a shit that I happen to have sex with my husband AND girlfriend on a VERY regular basis (and sometimes on the car ride there..)
    My cousins, Jimmy and Jay, have been together for almost 10 years, and they are the most superb people I know. They give whatever they can to a crap ton of charities, they donate their time at whatever benefit/fundraiser/etc that they deem appropriate, and they are huge supporters of the Keep a Breast “I love boobies” campaign (after much urging from myself.
    But, they can not donate blood. And, they actually WANT to. Jimmy has O+ blood, and Jay has O-, two of the most wanted blood types.
    I told them to lie during the questioning process, but they both feel that would be wrong.
    I’ve asked the people at my blood bank what their opinion on them having to turn away my cousins, and most of them just shrug with a “Them’s the Rules” look.. but a few of them RECOMMENDED that they lie to get the job done.
    You know it’s a stupid rule when the EMPLOYEES are shrugging their shoulders and turning the other way..

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    Gay men also can’t donate plasma & the screening questions are almost the same as those used in the US for blood donation. I used to donate 2x/week because it paid $240/month, and I wished my little brother could have done it too but they wouldn’t let him so he had to stay home and keep his gay plasma to himself and get no dollars. :(

    Also speaking of blood, my dad has donated over 8 gallons so far in his life. He has a closet full of free t-shirts from the blood center to prove it.

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      They do but there is a short period of time after infection where a test may come back negative even though the blood is HIV+. That said it is bullshit that they single out gay men. They also test the blood for Hepatitis C. Among the high risk groups for getting Hep C are health workers but I’m pretty sure they don’t stop them donating blood.
      It isn’t only in the UK that this happens though. The rules are the same in New Zealand where I live.

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    In America, 47 percent of new HIV cases are a result of male-to-male sexual content, while 44 percent of people with AIDS are black, according to AVERT.org, an international AIDS charity. Following the FDA’s reasoning, black people should also not be allowed to donate for fear they are HIV positive. It just doesn’t make sense.

    They test the blood for a myriad of different things, including HIV. What does it matter of the blood came from a gay man?

    (I blogged all about the ban in America here: http://stuffqueerpeopleneedtoknow.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/uc-blood-drive-gay-men-cant-donate)

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    This is absurd, how the hell do people rationalize this ridiculous policy? It’s perplexing that even in the face of scientific evidence and research to the contrary, supposedly rational lawmakers will let outdated hysteria cloud their vision.

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    This just seems like a cop out to me, and the UK was doing so well considering upgrading CP to be even more like marriage!

    Also, I must admit im a little bit sad that AS reports on gay news from the UK like the above but didnt mention the fact that last week Ireland had it’s first civil partnerships ever, even though homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993 here, that’s pretty huge, anyway, Im just saying is all, and seeing as the UK and Ireland are so close and are connected via many expats etc I thought id say it here, it does deserve a mention, despite the fact that this is a tiny country! Im prob just moaning, apologies.

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      Moan away, I’m stoked you mentioned it. I’ve got dual citizenship with Australia, we had an illegal wedding here a couple of years ago and have been trying to decide where to go to get a piece of paper. I think if we can head to Ireland and do it with the rest of the family who couldn’t make it the first time round, decision made! I had no idea.

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        Thanks very much, im pleased some people are interested, delighted in fact, thanks Lindseyhart!! @ Cat, yes indeed, the problem is that Civil Partnerships are not equal to marriage, but it’s a huge step in a country that criminalised gayness so recently. It will give you a good few of the rights that married couples can have. My advice to you is to look up the websites MarriageEquality.ie and lgbtNoise.ie although the LGBT Noise website is currently being updated by us so it wont be back online till after the weekend but both sites have good information on the situation here regarding getting civil partnered, gay and lesbian rights and trans rights here, etc. You will need to register 3 months in advance of the ceremony though. If you have dual citizenship you will be able to get at least the rights given by the civil partnership legislation and they are bringing in a law to give the same rights to the non Irish born partner aswell, if you want more info just let me know, im a member of lgbtNoise so it’s what we do, and if I dont know, i’ll know someone who will! :-)

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