Gay man alleges prejudice by blood bank

Donor was asked to attend meeting to answer questions about his sexual life

A young gay man says he has been the victim of discrimination by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, after he was asked to attend a meeting to answer questions about his sexual life and was then told to stop donating blood until he had received written confirmation he could continue.

The IBTS has a lifetime ban from donating blood on any man who has ever had oral sex or anal sex with another man. This is, the blood banks says, to protect the blood supply. Potential donors are asked to fill in a "health and lifestyle questionnaire" to assess eligibility to donate. Among those who can never give blood in Ireland are anyone who has been an intravenous drug-user, anyone who has spent more than a year in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996 and men who have sex with men (MSM).

Tomás Heneghan (21) from just outside Galway city, who says he has never been sexually active, has donated blood since he was 18. He says he knows that if he were to become sexually active, he would have to stop donating blood and he says he has always "been totally honest" with the blood service.

In July he received a letter from a doctor at the IBTS, asking him to contact her as she had “a query regarding [his] previous donations”.

Heneghan says the letter alarmed him and he was worried about his health. When he contacted the doctor, he says he asked her to clarify the situation. “She said she couldn’t over the phone and asked me to come to Dublin to discuss the issue.”

Mr Heneghan says he met the doctor at the National Blood Centre in St James’s Hospital on July 25th, where she told him the service had received an “anonymous query” about him.

“She explained to me the necessity of ensuring recipients of blood donations were always kept safe and that numerous different categories of people were excluded from donating blood. I said I understood that.

“She said the queries about me related to excluded sexual activities and she asked if I understood the questionnaire I had filled in when I donated blood. I said I had always answered the questions truthfully. She didn’t say I had lied but implied I had not understood the questions.”

The doctor asked him if he had ever had sex with another man and he told her he hadn't. "The meeting felt like an interrogation," Mr Heneghan told The Irish Times.

The doctor said she believed him but told him he could not donate blood again until the service wrote to him confirming he was permitted to. “I still haven’t received the letter. That was four weeks ago.”

Asked how he feels about the experience, he says: “Of course it’s discrimination. It’s a slap in the face. I have been so loyal and have planned my life around donating blood. It’s very important to me. I keep myself healthy coming up to donations, eat well.

“The staff in the donor clinics have always been friendly. I have no problem with them. It’s the management. This would not happen if I was straight. I am hurt and I am angry.” A spokeswoman said the service could not comment on individual cases “for confidentiality reasons”.