Expert claims old blood is riskier than blood donated by gay men

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An expert witness in the Anti Discrimination Tribunal regarding gay blood donation in Tasmania claims that blood over 14 days old is far more dangerous than blood from gay donors.

The tribunal was begun by gay would-be donor Michael Cain, who seeks to have the Australian Red Cross’ ban on gay men donating blood lifted having been rejected as a donor in October 2004.

Dr Scott Halpern, bio-ethicist and epidemiologist at Pennsylvania University, said that the mortality rate for using older blood could be as high as one in 100.

According to the Red Cross’ figures 13% of blood available for transfusion in Australia is over 14 days old.

By comparison, Dr Halpern said that blood from gay men who practice safe sex is much safer. He said:

‘I think we’re talking about one in 100 risk of death on the one hand with using old blood, and about a one in a million risk of HIV on the other; much rarer than getting struck by lightening.’

Dr Halpern’s evidence is based on research recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

He also made the point that if the Red Cross discharged high risk old blood, there would be an instant shortage in Australia, leading to a re-evaluation of the current ban on gay blood donation.

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson, Rodney Croome, said:

‘The risk from allowing donation from gay men who always practise safe sex in monogamous relationships is so low it can barely be calculated.

‘Why is the Red Cross obsessed with stopping these men donating but indifferent to the very high risk of death faced by every 100th patient who receives old blood?’

In his evidence Dr Halpern said that if the Red Cross was to discard high risk old blood Australia would suffer an immediate shortage that would require a reassessment of the current blanket ban on gay blood donation.