Last year, Israel lifted the lifetime ban on same-sex attracted men donating blood to Magen David Adom (MDA) - the Israeli equivalent to the Red Cross - instead choosing to employ the 1-year abstinence policy that is common across the world.
Now, Israel has implemented a progressive alternative, created by the Israeli Health Ministry, as well as Kulanu lawmaker Merav Ben Ari and the MDA.
The new amendment means that men who have sex with men (MSM) will now be able to donate blood without the 12 month period of celibacy beforehand.
The new pilot program, which will begin operation in April, does involve a more complex process. Men who have had sex with men in the 12 months before will have their blood donation checked for infectious diseases, then frozen for four months. After this period of time, they will have to return for a second donation - if this donation comes back negative for HIV and other infections, the first donation will be approved for use.
The new procedure reportedly only uses the blood’s plasma component. The transparent plasma can be used to treat burn victims, liver patients, transplant recipients and hemophiliacs. It contains physiological fluids, as well as various proteins and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium.
Israel's lifetime ban for same-sex attracted men donating blood was implemented in the 1980s, and only revised last year. This new pilot program does not replace the 2017 ruling, but instead adds to it, giving men who have had sex with men another option.
“For years there was this frustrating situation where members of the LGBT community couldn’t donate blood and when they did, they had to deny their sexual preference. Today is another important historic step toward equality for the gay community,” Ben Ari told Haaertz. “This is good news for the community [at large] because it will lead to expanding the pool of blood donations and as such, will save lives.”
The director of blood services for MDA, Professor Eilat Shinar, said he didn't believe the program was a "revolution" nor is he expecting an influx of donations, explaining that safety was the blood service's main priority.
“We don’t expect hundreds of thousands of donations; we’ll know how it’s working in two years,” Shinar explained. “At this point, the experts we consulted assured us that this is a solution that doesn’t undermine the safety of the blood units. Moreover, I think that there’s a value to dialogue and joint initiatives, and for the community to understand that we’re on the same side here. We want more people to donate and at the same time we must preserve the safety of the blood units.”
The Aguda, a LGBTQI+ taskforce based in Israel, conducted a survey of more than 1,500 LGBTQI+ Israeli people in 2017, and around 65 per cent of participants expressed support for the blood donation pilot program.
“The continued refusal to receive blood donations from gay men or requiring them to lie was an outrageous insult that is coming to an end,” said Chen Arieli, the chairwoman of Aguda, in a statement. “We worked through a process that involved the public, in which more than 1,500 members of the LGBT community expressed support for this temporary solution until a way is found that would allow everyone to donate blood. This agreement makes Israel one of the most advanced countries in the world on this issue and we welcome this important step taken en route to equality.”
In Australia, men who have sex with men are required to abstain from same-sex relations for 12 months for donating blood.