"The same legislation that applies today in Northern Ireland applies in the USA, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. I will pose a question.
"The vast majority of countries apply that legislation. So are all those people prejudiced or is the question that is being posed by others that I am prejudiced just a stupid one?"
Now that was a question posed by Edwin Poots, Northern Ireland's Health Minister, yesterday. However, if is possibly the wrong question. All of these nations brought in such legislation during the 1980s when it was believed that HIV was a disease that only affected gay men and also at a time when testing for the virus was not as good as it is now.
So while politicians in these countries maintain this ban what have the medical advisers in some of the countries listed by Poots have actually said:
USA: The American Medical Association earlier this year has advised the Food and Drug Administration who oversee blood donations there that:
"The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science. This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone."Canada: On May 22, 2013, Health Canada approved proposals from Canadian Blood Services (CBS) and Héma-Québec (HQ) to change the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men (MSM) from a lifetime deferral to five years. This regulatory decision came as a result of proposed licence amendments submitted in December 2012 from both blood operators.
Germany: The German Medical Association (BÄK) earlier this year has also said that it will do everything “within its means” to remove the blanket ban on men who have sex with men, those with lots of sexual partners and prostitutes, from donating blood.
France: A Government report earlier this year stated that prohibiting gay donors is now unnecessary because all donated blood is effectively screened for HIV. One of their advisers said:
"There is still this stereotypical image of all gay men having AIDS, which comes from the 1980s. People simply thought AIDS was a gay man’s disease and we are stuck with that view today.
"Most gay couples are simply like any other heterosexual couples in terms of their sexual practices.
"Allowing homosexual men to give blood will take away the risk that people lie on the questionnaires. People who give blood are normally responsible people. They do it for the benefit of someone else and will not do it if they think they pose a risk."
Netherlands: In the government's LGBT equality plan it says: "The cabinet will consult the Sanquin blood bank and explore the possibilities for amending the rules regarding blood donation so that for men, sexual contact with other men will no longer lead to life-long exclusion from donating blood. In this regard, needless to say the safety of the recipients of blood products has the highest priority."
Sweden: Actually are rather erroneously on this list. MSM have been allowed to give blood after a 12 month deferral period there following a change in the rules as far back as 2010.
Luxembourg: In June 2013 the Minster of Health said "sexual orientation cannot be a reason to ban blood donation.Sexual orientation is not a risk in itself." However, he is awaiting the results from the UK and France (see above) before making his own decision on this. Meanwhile the study in their country found that homosexuals with a single partner were no more likely to contract HIV than heterosexuals, while homosexuals with frequently changing partners were indeed found to be at a higher risk to contract the disease.
Singapore: It is still a criminal offense under the old British imposed penal code to consensually have sex with another man in Singapore. It therefore seems a little remiss of Edwin Poots to compare this nation with Northern Ireland as for a man to admit to having sex with another man while donating blood there (instead of counseling could face a 2 year jail term)
Mr Poots also fail to mention Australia (12 month deferral), New Zealand (5 year deferal), Spain, Portugal, Italy.
In opening his remarks yesterday Mr Poots said:
"There is no ban on blood donation by gay men per se. The lifetime ban is based on sexual behaviour, not sexual orientation."
Actually this is contrary to the SaBTO report and many of those reports carried out in other nations that are cited above. A monogamous homosexual couple in a long-term relationship are no more susceptible to acquiring a blood borne infection than a heterosexual couple. Nor is a man who had sex with other men over one year ago, any more at risk than another individual bases solely on that one criteria. Also not all MSM are gay men. From the criteria still used by the Northern Ireland Blood Tranfusion service it involves any man who has had any sexual contact either anally or orally, with or without a condom at any point in their life. For some men this may have been a one off in their youth that excludes them, if could also exclude their wife of x years for a 12 month period beyond the time they stop being sexually active.
When actual behaviour is taken into consideration, number of sexual partners, casualness and anonymity of those partners, risks of the sex involved with that individual, then Mr Poots can really say that the ban is based on sexual behaviour not orientation. I'll even allow a deferral period on MSM.
But he is also insulting nations such as the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands and indeed the Nordic nations especially Sweden when he says that they maintain the same prejudice as that which he claims he is merely echoing. They have commissioned reports which find broadly similar findings to that of SaBTO. The recommendations may vary from 6 months, through 12 to one year, for the deferral period but that recommendation has been made by those medical professionals. The same has recommendation has been made by SaBTO.
Three of the four health ministers acting swiftly in their deliberations on the findings of SaBTO. Only one is lagging and has attempted all manner of legal shenanigans to first fight the move to lift the lifetime ban. Secondly the prevent the information he based his judgements on being released. Most of the countries that Mr Poots listed are looking to see how and when they can lift the lifetime ban on MSM giving blood, unlike him who has spent the last two years working out how he can avoid doing so.