The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) has welcomed comments by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar that he favours relaxing a ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood.
The ban on any man who has had sex with another male giving blood was introduced in 1985 as part of a worldwide response to the emergence of HIV and Aids.
Mr Varadkar has received a policy paper from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service setting out a range of potential approaches to the ban.
Mr Varadkar’s spokesman said the report gives three options:
· the status quo, which involves no risk;
· lifting the ban entirely which would double the risk, although it would still be a very small risk;
· and the third option is introducing a one year deferral which, it appears, could be achieved without additional risk to patients, provided that compliance could be assured in some effective way.
Mr Varadkar favours the third option, which would men gay and bisexual men who have sex with other men would have to abstain for 12 months before giving blood.
"My initial impression is to favour a one-year deferral which would bring Ireland into line with many other English-speaking countries, but I will first get advice from the Chief Medical Officer, and hear the voices of patients, before making a final decision," Mr Varadkar said. "It is patients that ultimately take the risk, however small, and not those who donate."
Arguing the ban stigmatised gay and bisexual men, GLEN policy director Tiernan Brady said Mr Varadkar's comments represents a positive new approach.
“It was introduced at a time of international fear and lack of knowledge about Aids and HIV. 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,” he said.
Mr Brady said the providing a safe blood supply which has the confidence of the general public should be a priority.
“An essential part of that is keeping up to date with the scientific developments,” he said. “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.”
Coming out as a gay man during an interview earlier this month, Mr Varadkar said there were “policy reasons” for the timing of his interview.
“I am now the Minister for Health and there are decisions coming up that are not entirely my own but I will be involved in them,” he said. “ We have legislation coming forward this year about surrogacy and also a decision has to be made on whether we lift or relax the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
“I want people to know that whenever decisions are made on any issue, I will make them according to what I believe is in the public interest and my own conscience. I won’t be allowing my own background or my own sexual orientation to dictate the decisions I make.”