European court upholds ban on gay blood donations

Court of justice rules that ban may be justified in certain circumstances


A ruling by Europe’s highest court upholding a lifetime ban in some circumstances on gay men giving blood donations will have no impact on the ongoing review of the policy in Ireland, the Department of Health has said.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that a ban on the transfer of blood from men who have engaged in sexual relations with other men “may be justified” in certain circumstances.

For instance, a ban could be justified in a situation where it can be established that donors are at a high risk of acquiring severe infectious diseases.

However, the detailed judgment said less onerous methods should be sought rather than the imposition of a blanket ban preventing all gay men who have had sexual relations from being donors.

The court opened the door for a system that would allow blood from gay men which would present a very low or negligible risk of infection to be donated.

State’s rules

The current policy in Ireland is a lifetime ban on gay men who have been sexually active from donating blood. Minister for Health Leo Varadkar is now considering a review of the policy, which was conducted by the Irish Blood Transfusion Board.

In the wake of yesterday’s verdict, Mr Varadkar said: “Any decision [on the ban] will be guided by medical and scientific evidence and best international practice.”

He added: “I do not see this as an equality issue. We must always remember that the risk being taken is by those who receive blood, not those who donate it.”

The transfusion board presented a paper to the Department of Health on MSM (men who have had sex with men) blood donations earlier this year.

The department said yesterday it was now conducting further research into this area in order to update its model of risk assessment for MSM blood donations, and to determine what change, if any, would be appropriate.

French case

The law in France, as it is in Ireland, bans any male donor who has sex with another man. The ban has been in place for more than 30 years and was imposed at the time when Aids came to public prominence.