European Commission: Banning gay men from donating blood is against EU law

The European Commission recently affirmed that EU law does not warrant widespread bans on blood donations from gay and bisexual men in several EU countries. National health authorities often cite a 2004 European Directive to justify such blanket bans.

European Commissioner John DalliAnswering a written question from Members of the European Parliament, the European Commission explained that EU law does not warrant a blanket ban on blood donations from gay or bisexual men.

John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, explained that EU law warranted the deferral of those “at high risk of acquiring severe infectious diseases” due to their “sexual behaviour”. Mr Dalli underlined that “‘sexual behaviour’ is not identical with ‘sexual orientation’”.

The Commission also noted that when implementing EU law, Member States must not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. This means a blanket ban on all gay and bisexual men would be illegal under EU law.

However, most countries ban any men who had sex with men from blood donation, de facto including gay and bisexual men.

Michael Cashman MEP, Co-President of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights, said the Commission’s answer “makes a lot of sense. Commissioner John Dalli reminds Member States that it is individuals who are at risk—not groups. Being gay or bisexual cannot automatically pose a threat to public health; but risky sexual behaviour in men or women, gay or straight, is a real risk. I hope the British government’s announcement later today will prefer scientific evidence to prejudice.”

Further commenting the Commission’s answer, Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP, Vice-President of the LGBT Intergroup and Member of the Committee on Public Health added: “It is our highest priority to look after public health, and thus take care of the quality of donated blood. But health ministers must bear in mind that sexual orientation, ethnic background and other identity traits are fully irrelevant to a person’s health. Denying blood donation from these groups is discriminatory and goes fully against logic.”

Unrelated to the Commission’s answer, the British government is expected to announce later today that it will lift the lifetime ban on blood donation for men who had sex with men, replacing it with a one to ten-year deferral period.