Gay, bisexual men cleared to donate blood in pilot program

Gay, bisexual men cleared to donate blood in pilot program

Instead of having to wait a year after sexual relations, men will give blood that will be double-tested, frozen until used, MDA says

A mobile blood donation station. (Magen David Adom)
A mobile blood donation station. (Magen David Adom)

Gay and bisexual men in Israel will be allowed to donate blood through Magen David Adom in the same way as other blood donors, after the emergency service on Wednesday announced a “double testing” system that screens blood twice.

On January 6, 2018 the Health Ministry announced that gay men could donate blood, but only if 12 months had passed since their last sexual encounter.

But a coalition of gay rights groups including the Israel AIDS Task Force and the Agudah LGBT Taskforce, as well as MDA and MK Merav Ben-Ari, challenged the procedure as “irrelevant and unrealistic.”

MDA’s director of blood Services, Dr. Eilat Shinar, developed a special procedure that will test the blood once at donation and a second time before infusion, MDA said in a statement. In the interim, the blood will be frozen for four months in a special freezer.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry accepted the double-test procedure on a two-year trial basis, meaning gay and bisexual men will no longer need to wait between having a sexual encounter and donating blood.

Prof. Eilat Shinar, right, shakes hands with a donor at a cornerstone-laying ceremony for the Magen David Adom emergency service’s new blood bank in Ramle on November 16, 2016. (Magen David Adom)

Gay and bisexual men were originally forbidden to donate blood over fears of AIDS, though in recent years countries around the world have started changing their procedures toward gay blood donors.

In the United States, gay men were restricted from donating blood from 1985 until 2015, when the Food and Drug Administration agreed to let gay men who had been celibate for 12 months donate. The agency agreed to further study the issue after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida in June 2016, when many gay men were turned away from donating blood for friends injured in the attack.

The United Kingdom had a similar policy, though this summer it downgraded its requirements from a year to three months of celibacy before donating.

Activists say the guidelines stem from an outdated hysteria about HIV?AIDS, and that donors should be assessed according to their risk, not their sexual orientation. People who have recently had tattoos and piercings, slept with prostitutes, or returned from high-risk areas where diseases like Ebola and Zika are present are also prohibited from donating.

Ben-Ari (Kulanu), chairperson of the Knesset’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Lobby, called the decision “an important and historic step toward equality for the gay community.”

“The constant refusal to receive blood donations from male members of the LGBT community, and their requirement to lie, was an insult, but it has come to an end,” said Chen Ariely, chairperson of the Aguda-LGBTQ Taskforce.

“Starting very soon, all members of the population will be able to enlist to save lives regardless of their sexual orientation,” said MDA director Eli Bin. “Donation of blood is a right and duty common to all citizens of Israel.”

Approximately 300,000 people donated blood through Magen David Adom in 2017.

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