Nurse and partner challenge shocking law stopping healthy gay men in Australia from giving blood donations to save lives

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Petitioning against outdated and discriminatory rules, Nurse Connor Lynch and his partner, medical student Ky Ruprecht, have brought much needed attention back to the inability of gay men from being able to donate blood to help save lives in Australia.

Rejection by the blood bank seems like a rite of passage for many queer men in Australia. The current blood donor policy established by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) places a 12 month deferral on all men who have oral or anal sex with men (MSM), with or without protection. This means any man who has sex with another man, irrespective of circumstance, is barred from donating blood for 12 months after their last sexual encounter. This policy upsets many people in our LGBTQI community and in the past many have advocated for change.

My partner and I are both in the health field. Con’s a nurse and I’m a medical student. We have been in a monogamous relationship for many years and live a remarkably boring life. We often discuss the senselessness of our exclusion from blood donation.

We are two perfectly healthy individuals, negative for blood-borne diseases with no risk profile, yet are excluded from donating. Many people are in exactly the same situation as we are. Healthy donors denied the opportunity to donate based on outdated prejudices. Currently a heterosexual person can engage in unprotected sex with as many partners as they like, in whatever way they like and are eligible to donate. An individual’s behaviour should dictate their ability to donate blood, not the gender of their partner.

When Con and I discuss the MSM ban with colleagues, friends and family they are often shocked that such a policy still exists. We decided to start our campaign All Our Blood to raise more awareness on this issue, using our situation as an example of the senselessness of the current policy. In doing so we hope to advocate for a revision of the current eligibility criteria.

The ban on MSM blood donation arose from the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the mid 1980’s with most countries adopting an indefinite ban on MSM blood donation at that time. By the late 90’s Australia was one of the first countries to review this policy opting for a 12 month deferral for MSM donation in line with the current scientific knowledge available at that time. Some twenty years later despite significant advances in screening, detection and education nothing has changed and Australia is now lagging behind International best practice.

It is important to state that no person has the right to donate their blood. The right of the recipient to a safe blood product outweighs the right of an individual to donate. A categorical ban imposed on an entire sub population however, does nothing to stratify individual risk. Instead it serves to decrease the blood donor pool reducing blood donations to the detriment of the wider community.

The current policy precludes all men who have sex with men from donating blood irrespective of the circumstances of the encounter. The policy does not give consideration to safe sexual practices, monogamy, marriage or negative HIV status of an individual or their partner. It does not reflect the most up to date HIV serological screening and detection which is widely supported in the literature as a 3 month detection window, this being considered conservative.

A central issue with the current policy is that the TGA considers all MSM contact high risk sexual behaviour. The policy is both presumptive and problematic, ignoring the existence of low risk donors from this subpopulation. It makes a set of assumptions based on outdated and inimical rules that exclusively affect men who have sex with men. The policy assumes all MSM carry equally high risk of HIV transmission. While we acknowledge that the burden of HIV falls disproportionately on MSM population (this is frequently cited as justification for this policy), the contact risk of exposure is not the same for everybody.

Queer men represent a diverse spectrum of people and experience. Continuing to exclude the low risk MSM population from donating is prejudicial and perpetuates the social attitude that queer men are irresponsible and the relationships we forge are ephemeral. Maintaining this ban stigmatises and invalidates our unions and contributes to the rhetoric that our sexual practices are inherently dangerous.  In Australia my partner and I can now get married but we cannot donate our healthy blood -doesn’t make any sense does it? It’s time to review this draconian policy!

This article was first published, and was republished with permission, from The Nurse Break.

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