Tuesday 20 November 2018

Gay man drops challenge to blood donation ban after change in policy announced by Health Minister

Gay men were banned from donating blood in the 1980s
Gay men were banned from donating blood in the 1980s

Shane Phelan Legal Affairs Editor

A High Court case against the Irish Blood Transfusion Service’s policy of refusing to take blood from gay men has been dropped after a change in policy by the service.

The case was taken by student Tomás Heneghan from Castlegar, Co Galway after he was told he was permanently deferred from donating blood after he disclosed having a sexual encounter with another man six months before he sought to give blood.

The 24-year-old subsequently took a High Court challenge to the ban, which has existed since the 1980s.

However, in recent weeks Health Minister Simon Harris signalled the permanent ban would be dropped and replaced with a 12-month deferral period.

In court this morning, Michael Lynn SC for Mr Heneghan said it was a case where events had overtaken proceedings and there had been a change in policy.

He asked for the case to be struck out with leave to refile should circumstances change.

After the brief hearing, Mr Heneghan told independent.ie: “I’m a little stunned it is over so quickly. It was a year ago that we first came here with this case. I am happy things have been resolved so quickly.”

His solicitor Gareth Noble said it was now important that Mr Harris followed through on his commitment.

“As things stand we still don’t know the timeline for the change in policy,” he said.

“It is incumbent on the minister to deal with the matter expeditiously.”

Mr Noble said the decision was “another important development in the equalisation of Irish citizens from the LGBT community”.

Mr Heneghan had brought the judicial review proceedings arguing he considered blood donation his civic responsibility.

He argued the permanent deferral on blood donation imposed on him was discriminatory, disproportionate and contrary to EU law.

Mr Heneghan said he had undergone various tests after having had sex, all of which proved negative, before attending at the IBTS clinic at D’Olier Street in Dublin in May of last year.

He was nonetheless informed he was permanently deferred.

He argued that the permanent deferral was unreasonable, irrational and disproportionate in the absence of an inquiry into the actual sexual conduct and when the sexual activity in question presented no risk of infection.

Mr Heneghan had begun donating blood shortly after turning 18 in 2010 and quite properly disclosed his sexual encounter when he attended to give blood, the court was told.

Last month Mr Harris announced the decision to reform the donation rules for gay men after it was recommended in a report by the board of the IBTS.

Under the changes planned, men who have sex with men will be allowed to donate blood a year after being sexually active or five years after they have been cleared of a sexually transmitted infection.

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