Saturday 27 December 2014

‘Because I am gay, I am denied the chance to potentially save someone’s life’

Edward Smith has a rare blood type, sought by the IBTS, but his attempts to donate are rebuffed

Edward Smith
Edward Smith
Edward Smith

I HAVE one of the rarest blood types, but I can’t donate blood, because I have a boyfriend.

The current policy held by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS), preventing men who sleep with men (MSM) from donating blood, is, in my opinion, discriminatory.

What’s more baffling is that, mine is an opinion shared by the medical and scientific director of the IBTS, Dr William Murphy.

In an interview for this article he told me: “It’s not right that we have as offensive and as discriminatory a policy as we do,” said Dr Murphy. Why then is such a policy still in place?

Even more perplexing is that my particular blood type is rare and actively sought by the IBTS.

Known as the universal donor, it’s the only blood type that can be given to anyone in emergency situations. My father is a universal donor too and receives text messages from the IBTS regularly, requesting a donation, but I get turned away at the door.

I’m being robbed by the IBTS of the chance to potentially save someone’s life. I feel punished by this policy. I’m perfectly healthy, but I have a boyfriend and, consequently, I’m permanently excluded from donating.

At the blood donor clinic in Dublin, all appeared as one might imagine, until I mentioned I had a boyfriend. I was asked to join a nurse in a private room where I was told I was not eligible to donate.


I compiled my concerns in an email and TD Mary Mitchel O’Connor drafted two parliamentary questions to the Minister for Health on the matter, to which he replied: “The (IBTS) remit is to provide a safe, reliable, robust blood service to the Irish health system.

“Blood, and the products derived from it, are an integral facet of healthcare delivery.

“A major objective of the IBTS is to ensure that it always has the necessary programmes and procedures in place to protect both the donors of blood and the recipients of blood and blood products.

“The EU Directive on quality and safety of blood requires that ‘all necessary measures have been taken to safeguard the health of individuals who are recipients of blood and blood components’.

“The permanent deferral of [MSM] from donating blood is not based on sexuality or orientation but on the fact that there are increased levels of HIV infection among men who have sex with men in Ireland.

“The most recent full year data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre is in respect of 2012 and, in that year, 341 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Ireland.

“The highest proportion of new diagnoses, 166 (nearly 49%), was in MSM and this proportion has been increasing since 2004.

“Full year results for 2013 are not yet available, but the data for the first two quarters of that year show rates similar to 2012. These rates of HIV infection in MSM are disproportionately high, considering that MSM account for a relatively small proportion of the population.

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