The UK Department of Health (DH) [official website] announced Thursday that it will lift the lifetime ban on blood donations [press release] from men who have had sex with other men. Britain introduced the lifetime ban in the 1980s in an effort to quell the proliferation of HIV and AIDS [AFP report]. Men who have not had sex with another man in over 12 months will be eligible to donate, though men who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the 12 months prior to donating will not be able to donate, regardless of whether they used a condom. Deirdre Kelly, a member of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) [official website] review panel, said the repeal would not affect public safety:
Around two million individuals generously donate blood every year in the UK to save patients' lives. The SaBTO review examined the best available scientific evidence for UK blood donor selection in relation to sexual behaviours. Our recommendation takes account of new data that have become available since the last review in 2006, as well as scientific and technological advances in the testing of blood. Adherence to the donor selection criteria is vital to maintain the safety of the blood supply, and donors need to be assured that the criteria are evidence-based. We are confident that this change maintains the safety of the blood supply.The NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) [official website] in England and North Wales and the Blood Services of Scotland and Wales will implement the changes on November 7.
Bans on blood donations from homosexual individuals garner much debate. The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) [official website] in July asked experts to review a similar US policy [ABC report] that bars gay men from donating blood. An Ontario Superior Court [official website] judge ruled [judgment, PDF] in September 2010 that the Canadian Blood Services (CBS) is justified in prohibiting sexually active gay males from donating blood [JURIST report] on the grounds that the CBS discriminates on the basis of health and safety considerations rather than on sexual orientation. In March 2009, a Tasmanian court upheld [JURIST report] an Australian Red Cross [organization website] policy [text] to refuse blood donations from sexually active homosexual males. Petitioner Michael Cain tried to donate blood in 2004, but his offer was refused after he affirmatively answered an inquiry into whether he "had male-to-male sex" in the past 12 months. The tribunal held that Cain's complaint was unsubstantiated and that the conduct of the Red Cross did not amount to direct or indirect discrimination under the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1998 [text].