Gay blood donation tribunal told all donors should be screened

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The Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal investigating the gay blood ban today heard evidence from an Australian AIDS expert.

Mr Bill Bowtell told the tribunal that all donors, regardless of sexuality, should be screened for risky sexual activity such as unprotected anal intercourse.

Mr Bowtell was senior adviser to the Australian Health Minister Dr Neal Blewett in 1983, when all gay men were barred from donating blood.

Today, Mr Bowtell said that advances in testing and the increasing need for safe blood mean that it is in the public interest to allow blood donations from low-risk gay men.

“We have a very strong and robust system which we can change to reduce risk, increase the volume of blood and remove unnecessary prejudice and discrimination,” he said.

He also claimed that the growth of HIV in heterosexuals in the Asia Pacific region poses a threat to the Australian blood supply, and that for this reason, all donors’ blood should be screened.

Mr Bowtell was asked if a question about anal sex might offend potential donors. He replied:

“When you ask Australians a straight forward, honest question, you’re likely to get a straight forward, honest answer.”

Another witness appearing today was Dr Paul Holland, a Californian medical professor.

Dr Holland supports the current ban. He claimed that there is no safe sexual contact for gay and bisexual men “other than abstinence.”

Dr Holland defined “sex” as any exchange of bodily secretions including kissing, and said that if a man participates in a same-sex kiss, he should be banned from blood donation for that reason.

The tribunal was begun on 7th August by gay would-be donor Michael Cain, who seeks to have the blanket ban lifted and replaced with a system of questioning donors about their sexual practices.

The tribunal will continue until the end of the month.