Anniversary is the right time to end gay blood ban

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The First of January 2016 is the 100th anniversary of an important medical milestone.

On that day in 1916, the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) carried out the first successful blood transfusion, as we know them today – by using stored blood that had been cooled.

The desperate need to save men, who were literally bleeding to death in the front-line dressing stations from battle-field wounds, was the great motivation. Minds were focused, experiments tried, first-class brains employed to find an answer.

A hundred years later the procedure they employed on that New Year’s Day long ago is still saving countless lives – indeed, most of us have probably received a blood transfusion at some time in our lives.

One hundred years later, too, it is time to end the discrimination against homosexuals (like me) who are prevented from donating blood if one has had sex (anal or oral) with another man – even if one has used a condom – whilst this blanket ban does not apply to men who may have had penetrative sex with the female of the species.

“Necessity is the mother of invention”, the old saying goes. It’s strange how many vital developments in medicine – antibiotics, more recently - have sprung out of the horrors of war.

Welcome though Northern Ireland Assembly Health Minister and Strangford MLA Simon Hamilton’s tentative moves are towards ending the lifelong ban on gay men donating blood in Northern Ireland, one nevertheless feels the year-long ban on gay men in Great Britain from donating blood if they have had sex with another man to be equally discriminatory and offensive, as this also does not apply to men who have had penetrative sex with the female of the species.

Hence, today, as I urge others to join me in signing an on-line petition at www.petition.parliament.uk/petitions/106707 to remove the year-long ban on sexually-active gay men in Great Britain from donating blood, I simultaneously appeal to Simon Hamilton MLA – not to bring blood transfusion rules in Northern Ireland into line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom, but to make Northern Ireland the first part of the United Kingdom not to discriminate against gay men by affording gay and straight men parity of opportunity to give blood without having to temporarily abstain from having sex with the person/persons of their choice, and subsequently encourage others in England, Scotland and Wales to follow Northern Ireland’s revised position.

In the meantime, may I wish all readers of the Newsletter a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year

Christopher Luke, Royal Tunbridge Wells