ECJ delivers mixed ruling on gay blood ban

A ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men may be justified in certain circumstances, according to a ruling by the European Court of Justice.

However, the court recommended “less onerous methods” of preventing infection than a blank ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men.

In a ruling that means EU member states can retain existing bans, the court said that blood donation bans were acceptable “where it is established, on the basis of current medical, scientific and epidemiological knowledge and data, that such sexual behaviour puts those persons at a high risk of acquiring severe infectious diseases”.

The ruling suggests that questionnaires or individual interviews with doctors could “identify high-risk sexual behaviour more accurately”.

The court was looking at a French case, but the ruling is relevant to the national debate in Ireland, where health minister Leo Varadkar is reportedly considering a shift in policy and repealing the lifetime ban on gay or bisexual men donating blood.

Varadkar reiterated today that any changes to blood donor rules would be “guided by medical and scientific evidence and best international practice”.

He added: “I do not see this as an equality issue.”

There is also a lifetime ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s interim health minister Simon Hamilton said he would take a detailed look at the ECJ ruling, adding: “Patient safety is of paramount importance - it was for no other reason that the decision was taken.

“If those circumstances change as a result of facts and evidence that are presented, I think we would want to take a look at that, but at this moment in time, patient safety has to be the most important thing we have in our minds.”

A lifetime ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men was repealed in the rest of the UK in 2011, after a government panel said there was no medical basis for the blanket ban.

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