June 4, 2009
Four years after a gay man who was denied the opportunity to donate blood to the Australian Red Cross (ARC) filed a complaint with the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, that body has dismissed his complaint as unsubstantiated.
In October 2004, ARC refused to accept Michael Cain's blood after he answered "yes" to a screening question about having had homosexual sex in the previous 12 months. In his filing, Cain noted that homosexual sex is lawful and those who practice it safely should not be excluded from blood donation.
But the tribunal found ARC is bound to keep risks to the blood supply as low as possible. It rejected Cain's alternative of permitting low-risk gays to donate blood, even as it acknowledged their lower risk of HIV transmission. "In reality, the reason for the deferral policy is the fact that people who engage in male-to-male sex have, as a group, a high risk of HIV transmission," it said.
Dr. Philippa Hetzel of ARC's Blood Service noted that the deferral is not due to sexual preference but rather a response to the difficulty of detecting acute infections. "We know this is a very difficult matter for many people in the community, and we wish to reassure them that our main concern is the safety of our blood supply," Hetzel said.