SNP conference votes to condemn ‘prejudiced’ blood ban

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by a Newsnet reporter

The Scottish National Party wants Scotland to become the first part of the UK to repeal the discriminatory ban against blood and organ donations from gay men.  Until recently all gay men were banned from donating blood, even those who had proven their HIV negative status.

 

by a Newsnet reporter

The Scottish National Party wants Scotland to become the first part of the UK to repeal the discriminatory ban against blood and organ donations from gay men.  Until recently all gay men were banned from donating blood, even those who had proven their HIV negative status.

Neither were gay men considered suitable as organ donors.  In cases where a gay relative provided the best genetic match for a family member who requires a kidney, special dispensation had to be sought from the health authorities for the donation to go ahead.

Since then, screening methods have improved considerably, and most medical authorities consider that gay men pose no greater health threat to the transfusion supply than any other segment of the population.  Recently the UK UK Health Department’s Scientific Advisory Committee updated the policy to permit blood donations from gay men who have not been sexually active for at least 12 months.

The ban was introduced during the HIV crisis of the 1980s when it was considered that gay men were a high risk group and the precise risk factors for transmission of the virus remained uncertain.  

Although the ban has now been partially lifted, it still applies to those gay men who do not engage in sexual activities which are high risk for transmission of the HIV virus, and to those gay men who are HIV negative.  With greater awareness of issues around HIV and Aids in the gay community, gay men are more likely than heterosexuals to be aware of their HIV status.

Delegates at the SNP conference in Inverness backed a motion criticising the UK Health Department’s Scientific Advisory Committee’s updated policy as “wholly inadequate”.  

Stewart McDonald, an SNP delegate from Glasgow Cathcart said: “It is a discriminatory policy based not entirely on research, but instead partly on prejudice on homosexuality.”  

Mr McDonald pointed out that the new policy still means that the great majority of gay men cannot donate blood, even those who practise safe sex and who have tested HIV negative, and those who are in monogamous relationships.

Heterosexuals who engage in activities which are high risk for HIV transmission are not banned.  Campaigners want sexual behaviour, not orientation, to be the deciding factor in whether individuals can donate blood.

Mr McDonald added: “We have a situation where two men in a perfectly safe, healthy sexual relationship are prevented from doing what the Blood Transfusion Service calls ‘something amazing’: they will be prevented from helping to save lives.

“Most gay men do not have, and never will have HIV.  Their blood is screened in the exact same way as everyone else’s, and if safe should be donated in the same way as everyone else’s.  The policy we have just now, I would say, is unfit for purpose.  And this is 21st Century Scotland.  We can do better than this.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While we understand the point, the UK Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs has looked in depth at all the latest scientific evidence in this area, including improvements to blood screening and changes to donation criteria overseas, and recommended these changes on the basis of that evidence.

“On that basis, the Scottish Government have accepted this expert advice in relation to blood donations in Scotland.”

“These changes will bring the criteria for men who have sex with men into line with other groups who are deferred from blood donation for 12 months due to sexual behaviours, while ensuring every possible step is taken to maintain the safety of our blood supply.”