Pilot Program in Israel Will Allow Gay Men to Donate Blood Without Abstaining From Sex

Plasma procedure will give alternative to homosexual men who since could give blood since last year – but only if they refrained from same-sex relations for 12 months prior

An illustrative photo of a Knesset employee donating blood in Jerusalem, 2009.
Tess Scheflan

Gay and bisexual men will now be allowed to donate blood through a new procedure that will only use the bloods plasma component.

Men who have sexual relations with other men have long been considered a high-risk group when it came to blood donations because they were statistically more likely to be infected with AIDS or with HIV, the virus that causes it. For many years they have not been allowed to donate blood in Israel.

In June 2017 Israel aligned itself with many other countries in the West and updated its criteria for blood donations. Under the new policy, homosexual men could donate blood on the condition that they did not have same-sex relations in the 12 months preceding the donation. Practically speaking, however, this change made little difference since blood banks remained reluctant to trust potential donors self-reporting about their sex life.

The new procedure does not replace the old one that requires men to abstain from same-sex relations for 12 months. It was developed as an alternative that would allow gay men to donate blood without putting those who need donated blood at risk. This new track, created by Magen David Adom together with Kulanu lawmaker Merav Ben Ari, who chairs the caucus for the LGBT community, the Israel AIDS Task Force and Aguda – Israels LGBT Task Force, will begin as a two-year pilot starting in April.

For years there was this frustrating situation where members of the LGBT community couldnt donate blood and when they did, they had to deny their sexual preference. Today is another important historic step toward equality for the gay community, said Ben Ari. This is good news for the community [at large] because it will lead to expanding the pool of blood donations and as such, will save lives.

However, Israeli blood banks, like those elsewhere, have not found practical or safe enough ways to take full blood donations from gay men without the 12-month assurance. As a result, the new option will differ from a regular blood donation and will require persistence and determination on the part of the donor.

Anyone who wants to donate with the plasma procedure will have to mark the checkbox on the donor form next to a new line that will read, I agree to participate in the plasma freezing project. After the donation, the blood will go through the routine tests. If it is found to be normal, the plasma, which is 55 percent of the bloods volume and contains no blood cells, will be separated and preserved while the rest of the blood fluid will not be used.

The plasma will be frozen for four months, at which time the donor will have to return and give another unit of blood. If the second donation is sound, the plasma from the previous donation will be used. The plasma from the new donation will be frozen for possible use four months later, assuming the donor is prepared to return again.

The transparent, yellowish blood plasma contains physiological fluids, various proteins and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium. It is especially needed to treat burn victims, liver patients, transplant recipients and hemophiliacs.

I dont think this is a revolution and we dont expect hundreds of thousands of donations; well know how its working in two years, said Prof. Eilat Shinar, director of blood services at Magen David Adom. At this point, the experts we consulted assured us that this is a solution that doesnt undermine the safety of the blood units. Moreover, I think that theres a value to dialogue and joint initiatives, and for the community to understand that were on the same side here. We want more people to donate and at the same time we must preserve the safety of the blood units.

The continued refusal to receive blood donations from gay men or requiring them to lie was an outrageous insult that is coming to an end, said Chen Arieli, the chairwoman of Aguda, in a statement. We worked through a process that involved the public, in which more than 1,500 members of the LGBT community expressed support for this temporary solution until a way is found that would allow everyone to donate blood. This agreement makes Israel one of the most advanced countries in the world on this issue and we welcome this important step taken en route to equality.

According to Aguda, the position of the LGBT community was ascertained through an internet survey conducted during 2017, in which 65 percent of those who responded expressed support for the new procedure.