Belfast Telegraph

Minister hails gay blood ban move

Plans to lift the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood is a significant step in addressing stigma, gay rights campaigners have claimed.

Leo Varadkar, Health Minister, who announced he is gay last Sunday, has referred recommendations to revise the 30-year-old restrictions to the State's Chief Medical Officer and senior officials in the Department of Health.

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen) said such a reform would bring Ireland into line with other western countries and take account of the advances in medical science since the ban came into force.

It is understood the proposed changes were put forward in advice from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service which outlined a series of options including lifting the lifetime donor restriction on men who have had sex with men in favour of a 12 month deferral period.

Mr Varadkar said last week he was happy to discuss his sexuality in public to prevent any questions being asked about his personal life prejudicing political decisions.

Tiernan Brady, policy director with Glen, said the minister's comments represented a significant and positive new approach.

"It is 30 years since the introduction of the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men. It was introduced at a time of international fear and lack of knowledge about Aids and HIV," he said.

"In the subsequent years science has made major advances in understanding, identifying and treating HIV and it is right that we take those scientific advances into account"

It is understood health chiefs are being asked to consider the ban on gay men donating being relaxed to allow them to give blood if they have not engaged in certain sexual activity for one year.

Mr Brady added: "The priority is that there is a safe blood supply which has the confidence of the general public. An essential part of that is keeping up to date with the scientific developments.

"The initial lifetime ban was a blanket approach which was taken at a time when there was very little knowledge about HIV and Aids. Across the world countries are removing or modifying their policies around blood donation by gay and bisexual men in light of scientific developments and it is very positive news that Ireland is changing its policy now as well."

"There can be no doubt that the blanket lifetime ban has stigmatised gay and bisexual men. The removal of the ban represents a significant step forward in addressing that stigma and is to be welcomed."

A final decision is not expected for several months.

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