Our LGBT Coordinator Stephen Glenn was delighted to see the motion Science Not Stigma: Lifting the Blood Ban passed at the Liberal Democrats Autumn conference on Tuesday. It was an issue he had spoken on, without notes, very emotively 2 years ago at the Scottish Lib Dem Conference. He had been prepared to speak on this at Federal Level but he had been called already in an earlier motion.
The motion was to take things further than the 12 month deferral period for men who have sex with men (MSM) that is to come into force in England, Wales and Scotland on 7 November; instead of the previous life time ban. It calls on actual risk posed by the behaviour of the individual, not their membership of a certain societal grouping to be the reason for preventing someone giving blood. It calls the deferral period a ban by another name.
This is all very good stuff. We should really be looking at the science that is involved not penalise people in monogamous relationships, who practice safe sex simply because the person that do that with happens to be another man.
It is just that issue of science not stigma that lead to Stephen’s dismay when he returned from conference to find that Northern Ireland Health Minister, Edwin Poots has even refused to take the advise of the Government’s Advisory Council on Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs to even bring in the 12 month deferral period. This shows the stigmatism that the LGBT community is still viewed with in Northern Ireland. He said:
“Blood-borne infections, well-recognised or as yet undiscovered, have the potential to destroy healthy lives. Public safety must be my primary concern, and I want the Northern Ireland public to have maximum confidence in our blood supply.”
One does have to wonder what if the next as yet undiscovered blood borne disease is something that females carry if he would have to ban hetersexuals from giving blood. Also how is waiting for something to be discovered a policy based on science.
The UUP’s health spokesperson John McAllister said
“We cannot turn willing blood donors away because of out-dated and irrational prejudice.”
While Michelle Gildenew who holds the same role with Sinn Féin added:
“This is just feeding into the discrimination that people from the gay, lesbian and bi-sexual community already suffer.
“It goes without saying that we need to have robust screening of blood, whoever it comes from.”
Rainbow Project Director John O’Doherty backs up what the Lib Dems are saying about science not stigma when he said:
“If the minister truly wanted to minimise the risk in blood management he should be listening to the experts and ensuring that assessments are carried out on the basis of risk not sexual orientation.
“There is a serious need for more blood donors and a lifetime ban for any section of our community that is not based on actual scientific evidence is discriminatory.
“Since the decision has not been taken on the basis of scientific evidence I must call into question the minister’s motivation on this issue which appears to be homophobia, not healthcare.”
So does Edwin Poots claim to have greater scientific knowledge than 13 Doctors, 2 Professors and 7 others who formed the SaBTO Review Group? He seems to think he is.
Now if the advise he as a Unionist politician was being asked to consider came from Ireland you might expect him to reject it. But he is a unionist who has just declared scientific independence from the rest of Union. How can he be a Unionist that denies the scientific facts and consensus of that Union?
Indeed as Michael points out on the Lib Dem NI blog John O’Doherty has also asked does the health minister expect the people of Northern Ireland to be self sufficient in their own blood and blood products supply? Because without being so we may well have a risk of MSM blood entering the veins of Northern Irish citizenry.