Israel Health Ministry May End Ban on Blood Donations From Gay Men

Proposed change would allow men who had same-sex intercourse 10 or more years ago to donate blood that will be accepted by the blood bank.

A Health Ministry advisory committee on transfusion medicine will discuss next month whether to alter the clause that forbids the use of blood from homosexual men, after a similar clause was recently changed in Britain.

The proposed change would allow any man who has had same-sex intercourse 10 or more years ago to donate blood that will be accepted by the blood bank, like any other donation. Prof. Ayelet Shinar, director of Magen David Adom's National Blood Bank, does not object to the change.

Nir Keidar

At present, anyone coming to donate blood must fill out a comprehensive questionnaire. At the end of the form, emphasized in red, are a list of disqualifications.

These include numerous diseases, such as being infected with or being exposed to the "mad cow disease" that spread through Britain during the 1980s, various nerve disorders, drug use, and a positive HIV test. The clause disqualifying homosexual men reads "Having had male homosexual relations since 1977" - which is the year AIDS was first diagnosed.

Both MDA and the Health Ministry say the clause is similar to clauses found in all countries.

The convening of the committee after Passover to discuss easing the restriction has given hope to the homosexual community that yet another stigma will be removed.

Discussions about easing this clause have been going on for years. As far back as 2004, it was proposed that the clause on the blood donation form would be rewritten to disqualify anyone who had had unprotected same-sex intercourse during the previous six months. Six months is the window of time during which HIV antibodies will start showing up in someone who's been infected with AIDS during a sexual encounter.

But this version was bounced around in several different forums and never received the approval of the Health Ministry. Thus, to this day the old restrictive clause remains on the forms.

Last week, Labor chairwoman MK Shelly Yachimovich, together with the Labor party's gay division, wrote to MDA CEO Eli Bin and to Health Ministry director general Dr. Roni Gamzu, asking to correct this injustice to the gay community.

"The question about sex between men, without asking the donor whether he had had unprotected sex, is a serious deficiency," Yachimovich wrote.

"Under such circumstances [unprotected sex], there is a significant risk of AIDS infection even among heterosexuals, yet the questionnaire doesn't address this and creates the mistaken and dangerous impression that AIDS is a 'homosexual disease.'"