July 2, 2012
On Friday, the High Court ruled that a gay man can challenge Northern Ireland's lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. The plaintiff, who was granted anonymity, wants Northern Ireland to adopt the blood donation policy used in other parts of the United Kingdom.
During the 1980s, the UK responded to AIDS by enacting a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood. This policy was amended last November in England, Scotland, and Wales to allow donations by gay men who are homosexually celibate for at least one year. However, Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots has maintained the lifetime ban, citing public safety.
Papers submitted to support judicial review argue the minister has no legal basis for his position; the policy should be decided by the secretary of state for health rather than devolved to Northern Ireland; Northern Ireland already accepts blood products from the UK where the one-year deferral is in effect; and the minister's position could be affected by bias.
Attorney General John Larkin, arguing for the minister and the department, said Poots is entitled to act as he has. Moreover, the court was told the applicant for review has not remained abstinent and so would not even be eligible for donating blood under a one-year deferral.
The High Court granted review on points about alleged irrationality and compliance with EU law. The case is listed for a full two-day hearing in December.