The “draconian” ban on gay men donating blood must be reviewed, demands a campaign backed by MPs, MEPs and UK-wide and Scottish charities.
The Freedom To Donate campaign, supported by political leaders such as Liberal Democrats’ Tim Farron and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, SNP MPs and others from across the political spectrum, demanding the reconsideration of a ban against gay men who can safely give blood.
The campaign is also being supported by Scottish Charities, HIV Scotland, Stonewall Scotland as well as national, such as the National AIDS Trust, Gay Men’s Health UK, the NUS, and the LGBT Foundation.
Men who have sex with men in the UK are banned from donating blood unless they have abstained from sexual contact with another for a year.
In addition, the campaign is also calling for a review of the blanket ban on anyone who has ever had sex for money or drugs, or injected drugs, from donating at any point in their life.
One-in-four people in the UK rely on a blood donation during their lifetime, meanwhile the country has seen a 40 percent drop in blood donations over the last 10 years.
Twelve MPs have already pledged their support, including three out openly gay SNP MPs Stuart McDonald, Martin Docherty and Stewart McDonald.
Stuart McDonald tweeted earlier:
— Stuart McDonald MP (@Stuart_McDonald) July 28, 2015
In addition, Ian Duncan, Scottish Conservative MEP, and Vice-President of the EU Intergroup on LGBTI Right, also backed the campaign, telling KaleidoScot: “we must recognise that it is sexual behaviour not orientation that is important when determining whether someone can give blood. I am pleased to back this campaign and urge the UK Government to take action.”
Lucas, who called the rules “draconian” has also backed the campaign as well as out Tory MP Stuart Andrew who said he found it “objectionable” that he cannot freely donate blood.
Doctor Ranj Singh, an NHS doctor who supports the campaign, said: “Medicine has come a long way in the last five years, particularly in terms of our ability to diagnose and treat and manage HIV and other blood-born viruses.
“We are in a different place to where we were five years ago, and because of that, we can probably start to bring donation processes in line with them.”
Gay men were banned entirely from giving blood until 2011, under rules introduced in the 1980s to prevent the spread of HIV. Following a review in 2011 the law has changed with men being required to abstain from having sex with another man for 12 months before being allowed to donate blood.
In Scotland, donation is organised by the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, and the Scottish National Party has previously called lifting the 12-month period ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood in Scotland, provided they practice safer-sex.
Ethan Spibey, who tried to donate blood for the first time only to find that he was unable to as a sexually active gay man, started the Freedom To Donate campaign. He told KaleidoScot: “Like many of the people involved in this campaign, blood donation is a very personal topic for me. My Grandad is alive because someone donated blood and the fact I can’t do the same for someone else is for me, fundamentally wrong.
“I’m passionate about this campaign so I hope that people will get behind us and support our belief that those who are able to give blood safely, should be able to.
“With the aim of enabling those who can safely donate blood to be able to do so, FreedomToDonate is working alongside national charities and organisations as well as Members of Parliament to raise awareness of the current regulations and call for a fresh review into them.
“In the context of Scotland, we’re hoping that the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, of NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) as well as the Scottish Government will take action about the need to ensure a safe and sufficient supply of blood and support our call for a review into the donation guidelines.”
Speaking with KaleidoScot, George Valiotis, CEO of HIV Scotland backed the campaign, saying: “It’s time to review the ban and treat people equally when it comes to blood donation, here in Scotland as well as across the rest of the UK.
“It’s critically important to maintain the high levels of safety in Scottish blood banks, but screening for HIV is now effective at six weeks from exposure – so bans of twelve months are outdated and no longer based on evidence.”
Peter Tatchell has previously campaigned to change the 12 month ban told KaleidoScot: “The current ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood within 12 months of them last having sex is medically unjustified and is discrimination based on sexual orientation. It is premised on a generalisation about men who have sex with men. The government should cut the basic exclusion period to three to six months, dependent on the risk factors associated with each individual donor.
“The only gay and bisexual donors who should be excluded are those who have engaged in risky, unprotected sexual behaviour and who’s HIV, hepatitis and other STI status cannot be accurately determined because of the delay between the date of infection and the date when the bacteria or virus and antibodies manifest and become detectable in their blood.”
Tom French of the Equality Network, also came out in support of the campaign, telling KaleidoScot: “As our Scottish LGBT Equality Report highlighted just last week, many LGBTI people strongly believe that the ban on sexually active gay and bisexual men donating blood is discriminatory, stigmatising, and serves to perpetuate prejudice in society.
“The Equality Network previously pushed for an end to the lifetime ban, and we continue to call on the Scottish Government to keep the current policy of a 12 month deferral period under review with the aim of eliminating the ban as soon as it is considered safe and practicable to do so.
“We also continue to highlight the contradiction in the current blanket-ban policy that prevents gay and bisexual men who practice safer sex from donating blood, but doesn’t even question the practices of heterosexual donors even if they engage in far riskier unprotected sexual practices.”
Andrew, the Conservative MP for Pudsey, Horsforth & Aireborough, said: “If it hadn’t been for people giving blood, my mother wouldn’t be here today, so I find it objectionable that I can’t do the same. I can’t think of anything else in my everyday life where I am restricted in doing something because of my sexuality.”
Another MP backing the campaign is Michael Fabricant, who has previously called the rules “outdated, illogical and unequal”.
Lucas said: “I will continue to campaign for the government to end this draconian policy. The current rules are still discriminatory and are not backed by the scientific evidence which supports a six month window before donating blood after a possible risk.”
The campaign is asking for the government’s advisory committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs to review the restrictions.
You can sign the campaign here.