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Equal treatment of blood donors: Gay men now too assessed on individual behaviour

Published on
March 22, 2021

Homo- and bisexual men who are in a monogamous relationship will now also be allowed to donate blood from September onwards, announced minister Tamara van ark on the 11th of March. This decision was made partly based on a report of Marcel Verweij, philosopher at Wageningen University & Research and Roland Pierik of the University of Amsterdam, commissioned by blood bank Sanquin. Previously, they deemed the exclusion of gay men “discriminating and stigmatising”.

Currently, men who have sex with men can only donate blood if they have not had sex in the last four months. This is because of a heightened risk of infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV. But in the philosophical-ethical report of Verweij and Pieirik, they concluded among other things that policy should not only be focused on reducing the health risks, but also on the right of equal treatment.

Individual assessment

Sanquin writes: “Based on the report of Marcel Verweij and Roland Pierik and the advice of the medical advisory council of Sanquin, we have concluded that there are no problems with the transfusion safety to be expected if the current blood donor selection policy for homosexual men turns into a more individually focused assessment of risk behaviour”.

Rights in conflict

Verweij and Pierik studied the balance between the right on equal treatment and the right on health. Because men who have unsafe sex with men have a higher risk on infectious diseases, these rights are in conflict in blood donation. The researchers recommend two ethical options: every gay man can be assessed based on his individual situation. Alternatively, a blood bank can screen the blood of donors biomedically, in which case they do not have to ask any questions about sexual behaviour anymore. In the second option the risk of HIV would increase a little, because infections can only be measured after a while. However, the absolute risk remains small.

According to the researchers, this decision is only a first step in the direction that they call for. The expectation is that soon, also gay men who are not in a long-term monogamous relationship but do have safe sex can donate. Earlier, Marcel Verweij and Roland Pierik argued in an opinion piece in the Parool that behaviour should weigh more heavily in blood donation.

Read the report “Bloeddonorselectiebeleid MSM” (in Dutch only)