France revises ban on gay men donating blood

By Catherine Herbert
Staff Writer

Beginning next year, France will be lifting its ban on gay men donating blood, according to French officials, the New York Times reported. This antiquated law, which France enacted in 1983, is a remnant of the AIDS crisis and the social stigmas that surrounded it in the late 1980s.

“Giving one’s blood is an act of generosity and of civic responsibility that cannot be conditioned by sexual orientation,” said Marisol Touraine, the health minister of France, the New York Times reported.

France is joining other European countries in a trend to dismantle, or at least weaken, these laws. Next spring, France will begin to let men who have not been sexually active with other men for at least a year to donate their blood, the New York Times reported.

Men who have been sexually active with only one man within the preceding four months of the donation date will be allowed to donate blood plasma. According to the New York Times, if after a year there are no signs of an increased health risk from integrating gay men into the blood donation pool, the rules will progressively slacken even more until the rules are aligned with heterosexual donors. If a heterosexual donor in France has had more than four sexual partners in the preceding four months, they are not allowed to be a donor.

Health Minister Touraine says reforming this ban will help end a prejudice. AP Photo.
Health Minister Touraine says reforming this ban will help end a prejudice. AP Photo.

The “plasma study” for gay donors who have not had sex with another man for the four months before their donation will be conducted by a quarantine style procedure. In this procedure, health officials will be able to assess each donor’s sexual history from the past year and make a final decision about whether to continue to lessen the restrictions on men who have sex with men, according to CNN.

“The plasma supply chain will allow the freezing of blood donations, so that donors can be tested again, once the window has passed for HIV antibodies to appear,” Touraine said, according to CNN.

Gay advocacy groups in France are celebrating the deterioration of this ban, but are not entirely pleased with this announcement, as it is still creating an active separation in how heterosexual donors and gay donors are being treated, CNN reported. Officials are justifying this long deferral period for donors.

“Deferral periods exist, officials say, because some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, cannot be detected by tests during a certain period after infection,” the New York Times reported.

Others are criticizing these claims, arguing that “a 12-month deferral period is not medically justified, mainly because the so-called window period for HIV is much shorter than 12 months,” according to the New York Times. This essentially requires gay donors to not engage in any sexual intercourse for an entire year prior to their donation.

Openly gay French politician Jean-Luc Romero-Michel, and president of Elus Locaux Contre Le Sida, an organization consisting of elected officials fighting against AIDS, claims there are holes in the logic of the ban.

“But what I don’t understand is why we don’t condition blood donation by high-risk behavior,” said Romero-Michel, the New York Times reported. “It isn’t being heterosexual that is a risk. It isn’t being gay that is a risk. It is behaviors that are risky.”