Thicker Than Water

By Jim McVeagh 02/12/2009 1


The gay rights group Rainbow Wellington is taking the New Zealand Blood Service to the Human Rights Commission over the restrictions on sexually active homosexual men giving blood. Frankly, I think this is a stupid waste of the scarce resources of the New Zealand Blood Service, who can ill afford HRC lawyers. It is an absurd waste of time and money and is almost certainly just a wasteful publicity stunt. No-0ne has a “right” to give blood. Such a thought is ridiculous. There is also no evidence at all of discrimination in the sense that the HRC would be interested in. Male homosexuals are restricted in their ability to donate blood products on good clinical grounds. The very fact that only male homosexuals are restricted should tell you that this is not discrimination against sexual orientation.

The HIV rate in male homosexuals is 40 times the rate in the general population. It is for this reason that a deferral period is used. Gay men can donate blood, but only if they have not had sex with another man for at least five years (it was 10 until last year). In the US (where the HIV rate is very high) Gay men are treated in the same way as IV drug users – they are banned for life. I’m not certain of the logic of this but it may have something to do with availability of supply and risk. As I have pointed out in a previous post here, if the supply of blood is plentiful, there is no need to take even the slightest risk with contamination. In New Zealand, the supply of blood is variable, and a small level of risk is warranted.

Australia is in a similar position to New Zealand and they have a deferral period of one year. I think this is probably more reasonable than five and I would certainly be supportive of a change to one year. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly most HIV infections are detectable at 3 months; some are only detectable at 6 months but virtually 100% are detectable at 1 year. Considering the small numbers of gay donors likely to contribute in New Zealand, that less than a 1 in a million risk becomes vanishingly small.

The second reason I am in favor of a one year deferral is that it is far more likely to be achievable for male homosexuals. There is a potential danger of some gays not telling the truth about their sexual activities (or genuinely not remembering) and this potential is reduced with a one year deferral. (note: this suggestion of possible dishonesty is not particular to homosexuals, of course. It extends to IV drug users and potential “mad cow” victims as well.)

Rainbow Wellington, however, is not pushing for a reduction of the deferral period, but a complete elimination of it. Gay lobbyists point to Italy and Spain, who have no deferral periods for gays at all and whose HIV infection rates from blood are steadily falling. This is a little disingenuous as the HIV rates in these countries are much higher than in New Zealand, especially their heterosexual HIV rate.  Therefore their policies are, in fact, much stricter all round and involve extensive testing of the blood and detailed sexual histories. New Zealand has actually a much more relaxed policy, in comparison. Our screening process is fairly basic and kept this way by our deferral policies. There is a good paper on this topic done by the AIDS foundation that can be accessed here (PDF).

The only consequence of the removal of the deferral period completely will be a much stricter and more complex donation process for everyone and a likely increase in the cost of blood per unit. This is all so the gay lobby can score another point in its radical “normalization” agenda. And make no mistake, this litigation in the HRC is likely to be driven from overseas by gay groups that have a vested interest in seeing New Zealand become a “test case” to strengthen their hand in the US and the UK.

I have absolutely no problem with gay men donating blood. I would happily join with gay lobbyists to push for a one year deferral. But Rainbow Wellington does not appear to be looking for a reasonable compromise that is medically sound, but one that is politically advantaged.

The MacDoctor draws your attention to the byline of his blog. Lobbyists take note.

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One Response to “Thicker Than Water”

  • As a gay man, I’ve always been interested in this. It certainly *feels* discriminatory, but I understand that the science behind the ban is valid. There are jurisdictions where the ban is based on prejudices – and I believe that our own ban came about because of it, but it’s an argument that needs to have both human rights legislation and science weighed up together to find the right balance. As the AIDS foundation notes – it’s the disease that’s discriminatory, not our blood bank.

    I still think that 5 years is unnecessarily long, but it shouldn’t be removed all together. Either way, the rules need to be consistent for all unsafe practices, and people will still lie on the form.