Former health minister: Israel should follow FDA in allowing blood donations from homosexuals

Yael German says she hopes the committee set up to look into blood donation by “high-risk groups” would change existing policy.

Magen David Adom blood drive.  (photo credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)
Magen David Adom blood drive.
(photo credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)
Former health minister and Yesh Atid MK Yael German on Wednesday endorsed a decision by the US Food and Drug Administration to allow homosexuals to donate blood if they have not had sex with other men for at least a year at the time they apply to give a pint.
German, who put homosexual/ lesbian rights among her priorities during her short time in office, said she hoped the committee she had set up to look into blood donation by “high-risk groups” would change the policy of the ministry and Magen David Adom blood bank policy which prohibit donations from all homosexuals.
“This was one of the first things I requested after taking office, she said. “I wanted a change in the attitudes [on blood donation] toward both homosexuals and Ethiopian immigrants [whose native country has long been endemic for HIV]. In both cases, [refusal to take their blood] has harmed their pride and created stigmas.”
After immigrants first began to come to Israel in large numbers during Operation Moses in November 1984 – when some 8,000 were airlifted to Israel – they were banned from donating blood.
A Hebrew newspaper disclosure that MDA discarded blood they collected from the immigrants rather than hurt their feelings, triggered mass protests by the newcomers until the issue died down. This event caused “deep trauma” in the community, German said.
Other groups also are prohibited from giving blood, including people who lived in the UK when Creutzfeldt-Jakob (“mad-cow”) disease broke out.
When asked for comment, Prof. Eilat Shinhar, who runs MDA’s blood services at Tel Hashomer, said nothing was new and that she was “waiting to receive the recommendations of the ministerial committee and suitable recommendations from the ministry.”
The FDA, this week, under pressure from gay-rights’ groups, decided to halt its lifetime ban of blood donations by homosexual men and replace it with a requirement for the 12-month cessation of sex with other men.
Activists, however, said the decision was not acceptable because it was not medically required or reasonable that homosexuals avoid sex for a year to give blood. Instead, they argued, testing and re-testing of would-be donors would be enough to detect HIV. It takes a “window” of several weeks to several months before HIV shows up in blood after infection.
It was unclear, however, how homosexuals could prove that they had abstained from sex with men for the required period.
The FDA ban was in effect since the early days of AIDS in the 1980s, and its abolition was expected to raise the number of US blood donations by about 2 percent.