News & Opinion | June 17, 2021 11:03 am

Men Who Have Sex With Men Can Now Donate Blood in England, Scotland and Wales

Guess where they still can't?

Photo shows doctor taking blood from patient
Gay men in monogamous relationships are now free to donate blood.
Nguyễn Hiệp/Unsplash

The National Health Service has lifted a restriction barring men who have sex with men from donating blood in what marks a monumental shift for LGBTQ rights throughout much of the United Kingdom. The new rule will allow men who have sex with men to donate blood in England, Scotland and Wales, NPR reports — though of course there’s still a catch. Gay men can only donate if they have been in a monogamous relationship with one sex partner for at least three months. Those who have multiple sex partners, have engaged in anal sex with a new partner, or have used PrEP (HIV-preventative medication) within the last three months will not be eligible donors.

Still, the move reverses a dated and discriminatory restriction leftover from the 1980s, when fears about HIV/AIDS were as widespread as the anti-LGBTQ sentiment they fostered. The amendment to the blood donor eligibility rules follows a review by the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group, which found that “an individualized, gender-neutral approach to determining who can donate blood, platelets and plasma” is more fair and effective than barring all men of an entire sexual orientation from donating blood. Go figure.

“Patient safety is at the heart of everything we do. This change is about switching around how we assess the risk of exposure to a sexual infection, so it is more tailored to the individual,” said Ella Poppitt, Chief Nurse for blood donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, in a statement. “We screen all donations for evidence of significant infections, which goes hand-in-hand with donor selection to maintain the safety of blood sent to hospitals.”

The move to lift the ban on gay blood donors comes amid blood shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as countries around the world face an urgent lack of blood supply. Were that not the case, it’s possible no one would have even bothered revisiting these dated, homophobic restrictions at all.

Unfortunately, there are still places where such restrictions remain in place. Like, for example, the United States, where any man who has had sex with another man within the past three months is still barred from donating blood. Even this, however, is a more lenient rule than the previous restriction, which required men who had engaged in sexual intercourse with other men to wait a full year before donating. Late last year, however, the Food and Drug Administration announced a study that hopes to overturn those restrictions and introduce a more individualized approach to determining donor eligibility.