Sunday, 20 January 2008

Blood of the innocent

The National Blood Service in the UK is an organisation whose purpose is really self-explanatory - they are in charge of donations and provisions of blood for medical use. Aside from some rather annoying nag-adverts, they seem to do a pretty good job against the odds; blood not being known for its shelf-life, they rely on a constant stream of donations. Recently this stream has been running a little lower than they would like, hence the nagverts.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that a 1977 law (still in force) prohibits homosexual and bisexual men from donating. This article from the Guardian's Comment is Free section gives you the low-down: "Bloody Prejudice". Naturally the comments string is far longer than the article itself, and contains just about all you need to know about both sides of the debate itself. There are a couple of journal articles (I think they give the other side of the argument) on the topic also, one of which is here. The page contains a list of related articles. [found via the FaceBook group]

Without taking the time to read the literature on the subject (I have a lot of work to do at the moment), my impression of this is that it is an entirely unjust law, based on anachronistic notion of men who have sex with men. If it is true that reliable scientific study has concluded that they are no more at risk of STDs than heterosexual persons, then there is no basis for upholding the law. The fact that many countries (e.g. Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Russia and South Africa) have repealed their laws banning donations from bi- and homosexual men suggests that the research is compelling enough.

If anyone who has done the research has alternate views on this, I'm willing to be corrected. But from what I can see, there is no basis on which one can exclude this group from donating blood if one at the same time accepts blood from people whose sexual practice is identical (in terms of activity and protection) except for their choice of partner gender. Isn't this the same as prohibiting women from driving taxis because they are worse drivers, despite evidence that they are no worse than men? Or is that a misleading metaphor?

Sadly, I don't have time to think about it too much at the moment - essays to write.

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