Public Safety or Discrimination?

I missed this story last week, for some reason. It is something I’ve considered blogging about for a while. Last Tuesday, a group of campaigners took a petition to the Scottish Parliament to try and prompt a change in the law over blood donation. This topic has cropped up in the news over the last year a fair few times. So, is the outright life ban on gay men giving blood discrimination or simply a matter of public protection?

Of course, not being a scientist or being medically trained in any way I cannot make a compelling statement either way with much credibility. However, I am beginning to move towards the side that it may be ever so slightly discriminatory. My reasons for this is simply the contradictions that I see in the policy for blood donation regarding sexual history.

Rather than going into a long winded explanation, I tend to like explaining it like this:

John is a 30 year old man who has been married for 10 years. When he was 15 he had a protected sexual experience with another male. Before he got married he had regular check-ups at his local GUM clinic and always tested negative. John goes to his blood bank to donate blood and because he is honest and admits to his experience as a 15 year old is turned away.

Joanne is a 24 year old female who is in a sexual relationship with a new boyfriend. However, 2 years ago she had unprotected sex with a man who was bisexual and had had sex with another man. Joanne turns up to donate blood and is allowed to donate.

The ban is not only on gay men, but any man who has eve had an intimate sexual experience with another man, whether protected or not. Even if that experience was a long and distant experience.

Now, HIV and other nasty STIs such as this do take several months to show up in a persons blood, but can it really be justified saying that after 15 years a man who has had one sexual experience is at the same risk as a person who regularly has unprotected gay sex. I don’t deny that there is an increased risk, as any medical evidence that I have read supports this. However, I do feel that there must be some form of compromise somewhere that both protects the health of the public and is not discriminatory.Woman who have sexual intercourse with a man who may have had sexual intercourse with another man are banned from giving blood for 12 months in the UK. Surly, if men who have gay sex are at an increased risk a female who has sex with a bisexual man is also at an increased risk?

The other thing I find odd is that this ban is irrespective of whether the sex is protected or unprotected. Having unprotected sex whether that be straight, gay or otherwise puts a person at an increase risk of catching STIs so it seems odd that heterosexual people are asked very few questions about their sexual history.

Please feel free to comment on this if you are more learned in that matter than I am, as it would be interesting to get other people’s views on the matter.

I should also add that when I put these questions to the Blood Transfusion service, they declined to answer.

2 thoughts on “Public Safety or Discrimination?

  1. If you look at statistics from the Health Protection Agency they still point out that unsafe sex heterosexual sex is far less dangerous than safe homosexual sex, but I am unsure how recent they are.

    I find the statistics game a bit mind-boggling myself. I wrote about this from a English perspective on my blog, Sadly I had to focus on how people feel, rather than the debate, because sadly at points it runs in circles.

    1. Yes, homosexual sex is more risky than hetrosexual sex. However, my point was that the lifetime ban being operated by the UK blood transfusion services is today unjustifiable and in contravention of the law. For example, if you last had homosexual sex more than 9 months ago the chances of you having undtectable Hep B or HIV are less than those of a hetrosexual person regulalry having sex. The improved testing and knowledge we have around HIV (especially the incubation period) means that less tough restrictions could be introduced (similar to those operated in Australia and other countries) which are not discriminatory and at the same time do not raise the public risk to an unacceptable level. Listen to my most recent podcast for more information.

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