Israel has lifted restrictions on blood donations by men who have sex with men, with the country's health minister saying the long-standing ban was discriminatory and denigrating, especially to gay men.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced last Thursday in a Facebook post that the Health Ministry had removed inquiries from screening questionnaires asking male blood donors if they had same-sex relations in the past 12 months, which would disqualify them from giving.
Instead of screening all male donors for same-sex behavior, Israel will now institute a gender-neutral, risk-based assessment, starting on October 1, that asks all blood donors if they have engaged in “high-risk sex with a new partner or multiple partners” in the past three months, reports The Associated Press.
“There is no difference between blood and blood. Discrimination against gay people in blood donations is over,” Horowitz, who was the second openly gay Knesset member in history, wrote. “It was a remnant of a stereotype belonging to history. For years they have been trying in Israel to fix this discrimination without success, and today finally, we have progressed.
“When I entered the Ministry of Health, I assumed to immediately stop the discrimination against homosexuals in this matter, and so we did,” Horowitz continued. “Today we removed the degrading and irrelevant questions in the blood donation questionnaire and every blood donor who comes to save lives will be treated equal, no matter his gender or sexual orientation, whether he is LGBTQ or straight.”
Gay and bisexual men were originally barred from donating blood starting during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, due to the high incidence of infections in men who had sex with men. But as blood screening procedures have improved, and as the medical community has become more knowledgeable about the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases, countries throughout the world have started changing their criteria for blood donors.
For example, earlier this year, the United Kingdom eased restrictions on gay and bisexual blood donors, instead allowing any person of any gender to donate blood provided they have been in a monogamous relationship for more than three months. Last year, the United States instituted a similar policy, in which male donors are deferred if they've had sex with another man in the past three months.
In 2018, Israel's Health Ministry launched a two-year pilot program in which blood donations from gay or bisexual men would be tested, frozen for four months, and then tested a second time before being approved for donations. However, screening questions about same-sex sexual encounters remained on the donation questionnaire, reports the Times of Israel.
The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel praised the lifting of the ban.
“Ending discrimination in blood donations is a historic step for the gay community and for Israeli society on the way to equality,” the organization said in a statement. “The blood of hundreds of thousands of citizens is not second-class.”
The organization also thanked Horowitz for lifting the ban, saying it “eliminates outdated stereotypes toward the gay community.”
Gal Wagner Kolasko, the head of the Israeli LGBT Medical Associations, tweeted his thanks to Horowitz for his efforts to lift the restrictions on men who have sex with men.
“Now there are safe blood doses for all without discrimination or harming human rights,” he said. “Because discrimination also causes serious damage to health.”
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