Parts of UK to lift lifetime ban on gay men donating blood
September 8th, 2011
12:01 PM ET

Parts of UK to lift lifetime ban on gay men donating blood

Gay men who have not had sex with another man in 12 months will be allowed to donate blood in parts of the UK for the first time since a ban was put in place in the 1980s in response to the spread of AIDS and HIV, the UK Department of Health announced Thursday.

Blood banks in England, Scotland and Wales have said they will allow gay men to begin giving blood if they qualify under new rules beginning on November 7. Northern Ireland is expected to announce a decision on whether they too will lift the ban soon. (The UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.)

"Currently, men who have ever had oral or anal sex with another man, even if a condom was used, are permanently excluded from blood donation in the UK," UK National Health Services Blood and Transport said on their website. "The change means that in future only men who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the past 12 months, with or without a condom, will be asked not to donate blood. Men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than 12 months ago will be able to donate, subject to meeting the other donor selection criteria."

The decision follows a review of the ban by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) who studied the latest details on relevant sexual contact in relation to the safety of donating blood and completed a full review of review of overall blood donor selection criteria that is related to sexual behavior. The committee looked at the risk of infection being transmitted in blood as well as improvements in testing donated blood for diseases before reaching their conclusion to change the guidelines.

The UK Department of Health said the review found "evidence no longer supported the permanent exclusion of men who have had sex with men.

"With that change, the criteria for gay men falls in line with other specific groups that are 'deferred' from giving blood for 12 months since the time of a sexual encounter that is considered to carry heightened infection risks. That group includes whose who have had sex with anyone who has injected themselves with drugs, those who have slept with a prostitute or those who have slept with a man who has slept with another man," NHS Blood and Transport said.

“NHS Blood and Transplant’s priority as a blood service is to provide a safe and sufficient supply of blood for patients," Dr. Lorna Williamson, the  Medical and Research Direct of NHS Blood and Transplant said in a statement. "We welcome this review and its conclusions.  It gives us an opportunity to broaden our donor acceptance on the basis of the latest scientific evidence. “It is essential that our donor selection rules are based on good evidence to maintain their credibility with donors, and this change gives us an updated policy that is proportionate to the current risk.

“The SaBTO review concluded that the safety of the blood supply would not be affected by the change and we would like to reassure patients receiving transfusions that the blood supply is as safe as it reasonably can be and amongst the safest in the world. There has been no documented transmission of a blood-borne virus in the UK since 2005, with no HIV transmission since 2002.”

NHS Blood and Transplant said on their website that they know there is frustration that people are treated as groups when it comes to blood donation, but that it is necessary for safety to treat groups that may have larger risks of infections in blood with special care.

"The Blood Services are therefore required to follow deferral rules that estimate the statistical risk of certain groups based on behavior," they said. "We are sorry for any inadvertent offense this may cause."

The move comes as global perspectives are beginning to change and countries are re-examining their rules for blood donation. England, Scotland and Wales will join Australia Sweden and Japan in requiring a one-year gap between sexual intercourse between two men before they are eligible to give blood. South African has introduced a six-month gap between sexual intercourse between two males and their donation of blood. The United States examined lifting the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood in 2010 but the ban was upheld by a federal committee.

soundoff (273 Responses)
  1. Ryan

    I don't have any inherent problem with banning donations from high risk groups. I think the problem or issue with this ban is the fact that other high risk groups are not treated the same way. For example, are immigrants from Botswana or other similar African nations turned down? If not, why not, given that HIV risk is equal if not substantially greater? The ban is one-sided because gays were an easy/acceptable group to pick on. That's the issue here. If the ban is actually useful and demonstrably curbs risk that's great–but at the very least be equal with the treatment.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dann

      To answer your question, individuals who have lived or traveled in other countries outside the U.S. can be deferred from donating blood because of the prevailance of disease in that country. Hopefully the FDA will take another look at this ban and perhaps follow the U.K.'s example. More blood for more patients.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kirstyloo

      Yes. The US bans blood from multiple groups of people from outside of the US. If you've been to an area where HIV is common, you're deferred for a year. Some areas where malaria is high either a 1 deferral if you visited there or a 3 year deferral if you lived there. If you lived in Europe for more than 5 years before 1996 or for more than 3 months in England, you're permanently deferred. If you've had a tattoo, many states will prevent donation for a year.

      This isn't targetted just at one group of people. If the waiting period was dropped to 1 year, it would be similar to other high risk activities. I guess a compromise could be like that for malarial areas where they have two different thresholds. This could be a 2 or 3 year wait instead of a 1 year wait.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wagman

      The last time I gave blood there were several African countries that I was asked if I traveled to with in the past year. There are even European countries between a certain time frame that can get you disqualified. Using Rogain can get you rejected as a donor.

      September 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. magruber

    lol I think I got one.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ajax

    Gay blood is just the same as anyone else's blood. If the person (gay or straight) is HIV negative and not carrying any blood born diseases, then their blood if perfectly fine. Bigotry is so stupid.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • disco_fever

      It has nothing to do with bigotry. I am so glad you are not in the medical field.

      September 8, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. the_dude thanks i'll pass on the blood transfusion. Who ever heard of a celibate gay?

    September 8, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • jdigilio

      I am sure the celibacy rates among gays and straights are fairly similar. IDIOT!

      September 8, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boston1981

      LOL I'm gay, HIV negative and haven't had it in a year and a half. Of course i could have changed that with one of the two married men who have hit on me during that time...

      September 8, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ajax

    take your meds.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. yalesouth

    lol you really have a medieval perspective on medicine and how one becomes gay. you do realize that gays have str8 children and vice versa. gay men marry women out of pressure to conform to society's expectations and sire str8 chidlren and str8 people sire gay children. your claim is absurd.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • jdub

      actually dude nobody is born gay. Theres ways you can become normal (ungay)

      September 8, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sirenssem

      I think the best quote I've read for this is: if you don't like gay people stop having gay babies....

      September 8, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jessica

    Abbey, Let me guess, you were home schooled by religious parents, right?

    September 8, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. magruber

    cant afford meds thanks to republicans. lol think I got another. my comment is a joke comment about how people overblow things.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Johnjon

    thank you Abbey, voodoo princess.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Carrot Cake Man

    Carlton, you've been reading too many anti-gay hate cults' websites. None of what you claim is true.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Steve

    Jason, there's irrefutable evidence supporting the data in your example that he's a moron. You'll have to try harder to make something up.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. PEL

    It doesn't take into account gay men who are in committed long term monogamous relationships who are not at risk at all. They are forever excluded and that's just plain silly. A single female can sleep around and still donate as long as her partners have not been with a man and her risk is considered acceptable. But gay married couples are not an acceptable risk. Does not make any sense.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Joker429

    If you are lucky enough that you have never had an openly gay or lesbian person in your family, why take any risk at all? There are usually people right in your own family or group of friends whom can supply the blood, and you know where it is coming from.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Marc

    I never understood not allowing gay people to give blood. Not all gay people have diseases, as a matter of a fact, the large majority of gay people are disease free. Aren't these blood donation services suppose to test the blood anyways, even for straight people?

    People are dying because a pretty decent size of the human population can't give blood for ridiculous old fashion reasons. Old fashioned and also slammed by science.

    September 8, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ellid

    One big problem: what about gay men who are married to other gay men? Are they supposed to be celibate if they wish to give blood?

    September 8, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
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