In the last couple of weeks two more European countries have announced plans to change their blood donation policies for gay and bisexual men. The Netherlands has modified the lifetime ban on men who’ve had sex with men to a 12-month ban, while France is pursuing a multi-stage approach that should eventually arrive at a policy that will treat people equally regardless of the sex of their sexual partners.
Although Ireland has a history of creating plans, strategies and frameworks that never amount to much, there is a lot to be hopeful about with this one. It seems unlikely that some of the more optimistic and nebulous goals of the Strategy (e.g. “the development of a culture of support, encompassing education in and outside of the school, education in the home and among sexual health practitioners”) will be realized any time soon, but an 18-point Action Plan for this year and the next sets out realistic targets which, if accomplished, could do quite a lot of good.
So after much dithering and delay, here it is: my first post at Chancerville. Hurrah!
Although much of what I post here will be critical and sharp (because there’s a lot to grouse about in Ireland) I’m going to start off with some good news: last month Argentina joined a handful of countries including Spain, Italy, Mexico and Chile when it removed its ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood!
Argentina didn’t just modify the ban by adopting a deferral period—e.g. prohibiting men who have had any kind of sex with another man in the last 12 months, or 5 years, or some other period of time from donating blood—it eliminated it. Instead they’ve adopted a screening procedure that focuses on every individual’s specific risk factors instead of the blunt, outdated, and less-effective approach of “risk groups”.
In the words of Health Minister Daniel Gollán: “What we are doing today is scientifically and technically accurate,” “based on a medical approach that replaces that old concept of ‘risk groups.'”
Here in Ireland any man who has ever had sex with another man is still banned from donating blood.
Ireland’s Minister of Health, Leo Varadkar, has been considering whether to lift or modify the ban on gay blood donation. Regrettably, he’s leaning towards a cautious-to-the-point-of-meaningless 12-month deferral period—a ban in all but name.
One hopes that Argentina’s decision may help nudge Varadkar towards a more sound and science-based standard for Ireland. Indeed, Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin seems to have been inspired by Argentina’s decision and has called for the ban to be lifted in Ireland.
Ó Ríordáin (being the Equality Minister) frames his position as one of equality, and Varadkar (who is himself gay) has gone out of his way to say that he isn’t interested in the equality aspect of the issue, only the science.
Happily Argentina’s example shows that, in the case of blood donation, the science and an opposition to unfair discrimination can lead to the same conclusion.