NI ban on gay blood 'unjustifiable'

Published Monday, 04 February 2013
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The lifetime ban on homosexual men giving blood in Northern Ireland is unjustifiable, the High Court has heard.

NI ban on gay blood 'unjustifiable'
The case is being heard in the High Court. (© UTV)

A judge was told Health Minister Edwin Poots' stance is irrational and discriminatory.

Lawyers for an unidentified gay man are seeking a ruling which would bring Northern Ireland's policy into line with the rest of the UK.

They also argued that the risk of spreading infection through blood was greater among heterosexual groups.

The complete prohibition, put in place during the 1980s AIDS threat, was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011. It was replaced by new rules which permit donations from men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than a year ago.

The 12-month deferral was left in place following a Government Advisory Committee report.

It identified a much shorter a window period during which infection with blood-borne viruses could not be detected.

Mr Poots has so far maintained the ban in Northern Ireland, declaring it was to ensure public safety. Attorney General John Larkin QC, representing the Department and the Minister, is expected to argue that no definitive decision has been taken.

But a lawyer for the gay man who has brought judicial review proceedings claimed Mr Poots did initially make a "knee-jerk" decision despite advice from his officials to join England, Scotland and Wales in accepting recommendations for a lifting of the ban.

David Scoffield QC said there was pressure for a joint, UK-wide ministerial response adopting a single position.

"We say that the maintenance of the ban represents unlawful discrimination against homosexual men, principally on the basis of their sexual orientation as compared to heterosexual men," he contended.

The barrister, whose client was granted anonymity due to his perceived vulnerability, rejected a claim that the prohibition was centred on sexual behaviour rather than sexual orientation.

He continued: "In the final analysis the different treatment of homosexual men in this case is simply not justified by the additional risk or, we would say, the claimed additional risk the removal of the lifetime ban would cause."

Mr Justice Treacy was told the lifetime prohibition was disproportionate, with an estimated one additional HIV infection per billion blood donations if a 12-month deferral period was introduced instead.

"There's an extremely slight, indeed a minuscule increase in risk," Mr Scoffield said.

He further argued the evidence even suggests a deferral period could lead to greater compliance and a reduced risk.

Although any man who has sex with another man cannot ever give blood under the current rules, even if they have been tested for infection and have been in a monogamous relationship, the court heard. But those who have sex with either a prostitute or an intravenous drug user are only put off for 12 months.

"There's an emerging theme: if you have what might be called risky sex in terms of infections you are deferred for one year," Mr Scoffield said.

He added that the risk of HIV being spread through blood transfusion was less in Northern Ireland than in England, Scotland and Wales.

"We say there is no proper basis for the Minister concluding that he will not follow the approach of the other UK authorities when the risk here is proportionately much less.

"The approach of the Minister has adopted is properly to be regarded as unreasonable."

The case continues.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
realistic in planet earth wrote (724 days ago):
so the DUPers don't like everything the rest of the UK does??? lol. I can't remember any other time they DIDN'T want to follow their fatherland, hehehehehe......... Norman D, wow there, easy tiger :), Norman, I'd say the blood, from whoever, is tested before it's used..... and I'd also say, if you needed it enough Norman, you'd take it.... :)
OldSod in Fermanagh wrote (724 days ago):
Norman.d, you can't give blood because of your medication (that's a specific rational individual reason), a person with HIV or any other transmittable disease also can not give blood (again for a specific rational individual reason), but a gay person can not give blood because they "might" be at more risk of a transmittable disease because of a presumption of what their lifestyle may involve (that is neither a specific rational or individual reason,.... its prejudice). End this ridiculous prejudice,... accept all healthy and safe blood no matter who it comes from! Its a pretty safe bet that all the religious fundamentalists will not "turn gay" if they accept a gay persons blood!
Conor in Belfast wrote (725 days ago):
What a homophobic society we live in. We care more about flegs than we do about human rights and actual equality for all. Put the rainbow flag up over Belfast City Hall to annoy the bunch of homophobes in this place.
petand in londonderry wrote (725 days ago):
Surely the blood is tested before being reused. I know that if I needed blood I wouldn;t care if the donor was gay, straight, black, white, yellow, Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Hindu. I suspect that the ban is there purely on account of Christian fundamentalist prejudice.
norman.d in bangor wrote (725 days ago):
they are right to ban gays from giving blood because of the risk with hiv among the gay community i cannot give blood because of the medication i am on and i would add drug addicts to the list if someone caught hiv from blood their would be uproar and people saying why did you allow gays as blood donors other countries ban them not just here
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