Belfast Telegraph

Facts don't back gay blood ban

By Steven Agnew

Men who have sex with men are still banned from donating blood here. While I am cautiously optimistic the courts will rule it must be brought into line with the rest of the UK, it is unfortunate that campaigners are having to resort to legal action for change.

In England, Scotland and Wales, the ban was relaxed in November 2011 to a one-year deferral after abstaining from sexual activity with another man.

This was in line with the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, which advises ministers and health departments on relevant issues.

It's an expert, independent advisory group set up to advise on these decisions. No-brainer, as they say. Unfortunately not.

The first DUP Health Minister, Edwin Poots, chose to maintain the lifetime ban, citing safety concerns in spite of importing blood from England, Scotland and Wales.

He claimed to have evidence, which he wouldn't publish and which we eventually discovered didn't exist. A judge ruled that he had acted "irrationally" and that his decisions were "infected with bias". Ouch.

He now graces the DUP backbenches alongside his short-term replacement, former minister Jim Wells. Mr Wells resigned on the back of controversial comments about the LGBTQ community, made at a Westminster election hustings.

Now we have the third DUP Health Minister, Simon Hamilton. He says he will follow the evidence, apparently distancing himself from his predecessors while he awaits the outcome of another court appeal in this wasteful debacle.

Through Assembly questions, I have gleaned that, to date, this case has cost tens of thousands of pounds, although minister Hamilton did attempt to keep costs down by trying to remove the challenger's legal aid.

The minister must end this waste now and lift the lifetime ban as soon as possible, while committing to follow further evidence in reviewing the one-year deferral.

He has a choice: evidence-based policy, or policy motivated by prejudice.

  • Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

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