In a passionate and moving debate at the SNP conference in Glasgow today, delegates have voted to end the discriminatory blood donation rules for gay and bisexual men.
The rules, which allow men to donate blood only after abstaining from any sexual activity for 12 months, are seen as unrealistic and not based on scientific reasoning.
The conference was presented with a motion calling for the risk of infected products entering Scotland’s blood stocks to be based on an individual risk assessment for all donors, rather than a blanket ban (or deferral) based purely on sexuality.
Scottish Minister for Public Health, Aileen Campbell, has now written to SaBTO requesting a review of the rules on blood donation, encouraging an individual risk based assessment on blood donation.
Supporting the conference motion, Ben Macpherson MSP (Edinb Northern & Leith) said:
“The movement in our party has always been about creating a fairer society. We should pass this motion based on a determination to save lives. The current 12-month blanket deferral seems unreasonable and unfair. And we should pass this motion based on the grounds of safety, on the individual risk assessment and risk factors, not on sexual orientation.”
Rona Mackay MSP, said:
“Today’s resolution gives conference the chance to review an area of inequality which still remains in Scotland. All party leaders in Scotland have supported the changes, with the exception of Willie Rennie. There is no consideration of the mutual trust essential in the donor process in retaining these rules.”
Councillor Adam McVey, in proposing the motion, said:
“Blood safety comes first, always in this debate. We can create a smarter system that manages risk based on the evidence. This ban seems not to be about the science.”
The rules around blood donation for gay and bisexual men were relaxed in 2011 when the UK Advisory Committee on Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) recommended that the complete ban be relaxed to a deferral period – meaning men could donate if they have abstained from sex for a year.
Although the motion carries no legal standing, the SNP have been here before. In 2011, East Kilbride MSP, Linda Fabiani, raised a motion at conference which criticised SaBTO for the new deferral rules and called them “wholly inadequate”.
Approving the motion today does add more pressure to the Scottish Government to take a lead in the UK and make these changes to blood donation rules themselves.
At a time when blood stocks are low and new donors are being encouraged to come forward, gay and bisexual men, many of whom are far more aware of their sexual health status than most of the population, are eager and willing to give the gift of life. Only 4% of the Scottish population give blood.
For more information about the campaign to change the blood donation rules, check the Freedom to Donate group pages on Facebook or at http://www.freedomtodonate.org