The ban on gay men giving blood should be lifted, Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has said.
He also said a proposed compromise, whereby gay and bisexual men would be allowed to give blood only if they had abstained from sex with men for a year, would be seen as “offensive”.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar is poised to make a decision on the ban — which was imposed at the height of the HIV/Aids panic in the mid-1980s — when a report is delivered in the next few months from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS).
Mr Ó Ríordáin’s remarks are in sharp contrast to Mr Varadkar’s stance, who has claimed that the ban is not an equality issue, and has expressed support for male donors having to undertake a 12-month ban on sex with other men.
Mr Ó Ríordáin insisted it was time for the ban to be lifted. He told the Irish Examiner: “It’s an equality issue, it makes sense to me.”
Asked whether he agreed that it would be offensive to gay men to only be allowed to give blood if they have been celibate for a year, he said: “On the face of it, I agree with that, but I am not the person who is going to make a decision on it — Leo Varadkar is.
“He is somebody who is perfectly positioned to make a determination on that, and I mean by that, on the basis of his responsibilities.”
Gay rights groups say the ban stigmatises gay and bisexual men. The length of the suggested 12-month ban on sex with males for gay and bisexual would-be donors has also been criticised as too long.
Sophisticated tests by the IBTS mean the length between a blood donation and any potential HIV infection from sexual contact would only be one week previously.
Mr Varadkar has said that any change will be based on medical evidence.
“Any decision that’s made should be made on the grounds of science,” he said. “This is an issue of patient safety and medical science, not an equality issue in my view,” he said earlier this year.
“We always need to bear in mind that when it comes to blood transfusion it’s the person that’s receiving the blood who takes the risk, not the person donating it. So this decision will be made in consultation with others and it will be made on a scientific grounds.”
Tiernan Brady of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network said the most important thing was safety of the blood supply, but the ban needed to be lifted as medical science had moved on considerably since the 1980s. He said any deferral from a sex time limit put on gay and bisexual donors to replace the lifetime ban must be kept under review.
In April, the European Court of Justice ruled that banning gay men from giving blood “may be justified’ in certain circumstances, but it added that less onerous methods than a blanket ban should be used.
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