Leo Varadkar favours lifting gay male blood donor ban

Varadkar claims 12-month deferral for donations would bring Ireland into line with other countries

The 30-year-old ban on gay men donating blood should be lifted, Health Minister Leo Varadkar has signalled.

Mr Varadkar, who said he came out as gay partly so that his decision on a change of policy in this area would be transparent, insisted he would await expert opinion before making a final decision on the issue.

A new system would allow men who have sex with men, but who have not engaged in “risky” sexual activity for the preceding year, to donate blood.

The original ban on blood donations from men who had sex with men was imposed in the mid-1980s when Aids hysteria was at its peak.

The ban has been the subject of controversy for three decades, and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service put three options to the Health Department in recent weeks — a removal of the ban, keeping it in place, or introducing a deferral period of 12 months before donations. The health minister has stated that he is favour of a year-long delay.

Mr Varadkar said he believes that the delay would bring Ireland into line with other Western counties, but he wanted to hear from the Chief Medical Officer and patients before making a final decision.

“My initial impression is to favour a one-year deferral which would bring Ireland into line with many other English-speaking countries, but I will first get advice from the Chief Medical Officer, and hear the voices of patients, before making a final decision,” Mr Varadkar said.

The signal from the minister was welcomed by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN).

“The comments made by the minister are good news about finally removing and altering the blanket lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood and there is no doubt that the ban was discriminating and stigmatising and, 30 years since it was introduced, the situation has moved on and so should the ban move on as well,” said a GLEN spokesperson.

The move came as a new survey revealed that there is overwhelming support for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, but showed that backing was weaker when the issue of adoption was brought into focus.

The No side has pushed the issue of children’s and adoption rights to the fore of its campaign, despite the Yes camp saying that the matter had no relevance to the marriage equality referendum, to be held in May.

A GLEN spokesperson said:

“The figures are very positive but a lot of work will be required to ensure the amendment passes.

“We look forward to widespread conversations and engagement with people all across the country to explain why marriage matters to lesbian and gay people and to seek their vote in the forthcoming referendum.”

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