Australia considers lifting gay blood ban

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

In a world-first, the ban on gay men donating blood will be reviewed by a body that has the power to strike the ban down in Australia.

After months considering hundreds of pages of written evidence for and against the ban, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner has decided that the Australian Red Cross Blood Service should be made to justify its policy before the State’s Anti-Discrimination Tribunal.

Michael Cain, the gay man whose complaint about being turned away from blood donation is at the centre of the groundbreaking legal battle, welcomed the decision.

“It’s been a generation since the gay blood ban was put in place and it’s high time it was subject to this kind of rigorous and impartial review”, Mr Cain said.

“A new donor screening policy based on the safety of donors’ sexual practices rather than the gender of their sexual partners would make the blood supply safer.”

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson, Rodney Croome, said that the decision to refer Mr Cain’s case to the Tribunal puts Tasmania at the cutting-edge a global movement to reform blood donation guidelines.

“This is the first time anywhere that the gay blood ban has gone on trial,” Mr Croome said.

“While Italy and Spain both allow gay men who practice safe sex to donate blood, policies in those countries were changed by governments not courts, and while the gay blood ban has recently been questioned by major health organisations in the US and Britain they do not have the power to change the policy.”

“For these reasons, the Tasmanian Tribunal’s hearings will be watched carefully by governments and health experts the world over.”

Mr Cain has the support of the Hobart Community Legal Service in preparing his case.

Hearings are expected to begin later this year.

The blood service in the UK, US, South Africa and Australia, has faced protests from student and medical groups to lift its ban over the last few months.

Gay and bisexual men in the UK are banned from donating blood because of the HIV risk, even if they have one partner and practise safe sex.

A UK National Blood Service (NBS) spokesman told “We have had these policies in place for many years in order to maximise blood safety. All our blood is tested for HIV but no test is 100 per cent. This isn’t about discrimination, our policies are constantly reviewed to ensure blood supply is maintained and kept safe.”

The NBS points out that it also bars heterosexuals who have indulged in dangerous practices and anyone who has recently had acupuncture or lived in countries where HIV infection is rife.

Gay men account for around eighty per cent of new HIV infections in Britain, according to the Terrence Higgins Trust, who support the NBS stance.

A majority of HIV cases are contracted abroad and brought over by immigrants from countries such as Africa, who are not banned from donating blood.