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The issue with blood donor restrictions

Jasmin Wade examines the morality behind the restriction on gay men who wish to give blood.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Save a life. Give blood. Unless you’re HIV positive, you’ve had a tattoo or piercing in the past 4 months, you’re on antibiotics, or if you’re a sexually active gay man. Prior to 2011, gay men were completely banned from donating blood, being in the same category as those with Hepatitis B/C, those with syphilis, users of body-building drugs and sex workers. However, this absolute ban was repealed and the NHS now currently require twelve months of abstinence, which is to be reduced to three.

This restriction has been highlighted as particularly controversial amongst the LGBTQ+ community, as it’s seen as a hangover of sorts from the HIV epidemic, which has the consequences of both discriminating against gay and bisexual men, and leading to decreased numbers of new blood donors. Nevertheless, the NHS is adamant that these regulations are not prejudiced. To quote their website: “It’s not based on anyone’s sexual history or sexuality. It reflects statistical risks for the sexual behaviour that increases the risk of virus transmission.”

I myself subscribe to this collective anxiety of not wanting to offend any of my fellow human beings.

Statistics are organised numbers, pure data that is derived from neither logic nor emotion, but simple fact. If the NHS’ regulations are solely based on statistics, it makes sense to look at those from Public Health England as published on the National Aids Trust website. 48.2% of HIV sufferers were exposed through heterosexual sex, whereas 47.1% were through homosexual sex between men. However, because 93.7% of the UK population identify as heterosexual, there is a much larger proportion of heterosexual people without HIV than with it, therefore the risk of HIV transmission amongst gay men is definitely emphasised. Although, we can attribute this to English society being historically heteronormative.

I find that there is a culture of “political correctness” in England, and I myself subscribe to this collective anxiety of not wanting to offend any of my fellow human beings. Nevertheless, this entire issue is a political minefield that is infuriating to read, write and think about.

the NHS is discriminating against gay men

On the surface, the NHS is discriminating against gay men, which is believable given that the LGBTQ+ community still suffer prejudice and discrimination in this country despite legal and social reforms. Statistically, yes, it is more probable that gay men will be exposed to HIV, but it seem ridiculous to only allow a certain group of men to save a life because they haven’t had sex, a natural human behaviour, for three months. It makes the NHS complicit in the othering that the LGBTQ+ community faces daily.

Blood runs through every human’s veins. Blood is what makes us equal.

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