Tory MP Michael Fabricant has called for an end to the 12-month deferral on gay and bisexual men donating blood, in a Parliamentary motion today.
At present, men who have sex with men (MSM) can only give blood in England, Wales and Scotland if they have not had sex for 12 months or more – and remain banned from donating for life in Northern Ireland.
In addition to Mr Fabricant, the bill was supported by Labour MPs Keith Vaz, Ann Clwyd and Jim FitzPatrick; Liberal Democrats Tim Farron and Duncan Hames; Tory MPs Nigel Evans, Sir Tony Baldry, Sir John Randall, Steve Baker, and Aidan Burley, and Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards.
The bill was tabled for a second reading on Friday March 6.
He said in his speech:
Mr Speaker, Sometimes you just know when something is wrong.
When something doesn’t make sense. When something isn’t fair.
How can it be logical that a straight promiscuous man who might have a two different partners each night of the year can donate blood while a gay man in a monogamous loving relationship cannot – unless he has certified that he has been totally celibate for the past year?
How can a nation that has just passed the equal marriage Act block those same people from donating blood?
And it used to be even worse. Gay people were banned altogether until the intervention of my Hon Friend the member for Guildford who, when health minister, rolled back the rules. I pay her tribute for this. She is indeed a gay icon.
Each day in England, around 8,000 people donate blood in hospitals, in blood donation trucks, and even here in the Palace of Westminster. For those in this House who have donated, they will know that it is a relatively quick process and if you’ve been a brave little boy like me, you might even get a sticker from the nurse!
This a truly special act and something that our NHS relies upon in order to help those in emergencies, those being treated for some cancers, and others who have liver disease as well as many other illnesses that can only be treated through the generosity of others.
But there are shortages. Out of the 8 blood groups that exist, some are much rarer than others and stocks are extremely low. Indeed, a friend of mine regularly and safely donates relatively rare O rhesus negative blood which is badly needed, but he has to tell a lie in order to do so.
But safety must be the main issue, above all others.
Safety of patients receiving blood and safety too of those donating blood is paramount. Nothing in the Bill I am moving today should jeopardise that – and that is why it has cross-party support from Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Plaid Cymru colleagues as well as those from the Conservative Party.
Perhaps, at this stage, it’s important to reflect on the historic reasons for our current regulations in relation to gay blood donation.
In the early 1980s, when doctors first recognised the connection between blood contamination and the newly discovered so-called ‘gay plague’, “AIDS”, an instant ban was placed on blood donors who were in high risk categories such as those who shared needles, those who visited prostitutes and of course the gay community. There are others too such as people who have visited Sub-Saharan Africa who are considered to be of high risk. Most of these categories remain in place to this day.
Many in this House today will remember those days when AIDS was a killer without treatment. It had even a higher fatality rate than Ebola has today. It was a killer without mercy. I know what it was like. A young friend of mine in his early 30s, once fit and active, died in 1992 from this awful disease. Thankfully, times have moved on.
Today, HIV/AIDS is labelled as a chronic illness and is no longer the killer it once was. Huge advances in medicine and treatments mean that a diagnosis isn’t a death sentence, but something that can be managed. More relevant for this Bill, awareness and screening is highly efficient and quick. Detection of HIV/AIDS can be made within weeks and the accuracy is near perfect.
But AIDS and HIV are not the only problems faced when looking at gay blood donation. Hepatitis B also tends to affect the gay community more than other groups and is transmitted in a similar way to HIV. Detection also takes longer – months rather than weeks.
So with this evidence, I am not arguing that potential gay blood donors pose no risk to the blood pool in 2014.
My argument today is one of simple logic. If a monogamous, healthy, sexually active gay man who has been tested and has neither HIV/AIDS nor Hepatitis B nor is having sex with anyone with HIV/AIDs or Hepatitis B, why should he be prevented from donating blood?
During the summer when I first made my argument for what I call ‘Equal Blood’, I listened to a number of medical professionals explain the dangers of generally lifting the gay blood ban. But there was not a single argument against the simple logic I have just set out. And logic applies to medicine just as it does to any other science.
In Europe, there are 4 countries which have no restrictions whatsoever on gays donating blood and several states of the United States also have no restrictions.
But that is not exactly what I am advocating today.
AIDS, HIV, and Hepatitis B are all still major concerns in relation to blood donation – I am in no doubt about that.
But what I want are equal rules to apply to both the straight and the gay communities. If we are to require gay men to be healthy and only have sex with other men who have been tested and shown to be healthy before they can give blood, this should apply to straight men and women too.
We have a shortage of blood donors. Rules that ban those who are healthy, and who clearly pose no more of a risk than the average straight person no longer make sense and it’s time that this issue be addressed by the Government.
I am extremely proud that it was this Government who introduced and legislated on equal marriage. It is legislation which has made a huge difference to the lives and happiness of many couples.
It is now my hope that with the same logic, the Government will follow suit on Equal Blood.
An expert medical and scientific committee – independent of the blood transfusion service – should look at this again, taking scientific evidence from other countries which, on this matter, are ahead of our own.
I hope that its findings will enable even more people to donate blood safely, building up on our blood reserves in order to save lives and to sustain very precious lifelines to those most in need. – And, yes, because it is also the right thing to do.
Campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “The current ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood within 12 months of them last having sex is medically unjustified discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“I hope the government will support proposals for a shorter exclusion period based on a more refined risk assessment.”