‘Why Single Out Sex Between Two Men?’


blood1Brian Headshot web

Brian O’Mahony, of The irish Haemophilia Society and (top) irish Blood Transfusion service logo


Brian O’Mahony, CEO of the Irish Haemophilia Society went on RTÉ R1’s Morning Ireland this morning to discuss with presenter Gavin Jennings his reasons for wanting the ban on blood donations from gay people in Ireland to continue.

Jennings :
“You want the ban on gay men donating blood to remain, why?”

O’Mahony: “We believe that any change in, in donor deferral for any category of people should be based on scientific evidence. What we’re saying is that, and, it’s not just gay men by the way who are deferred, people with haemophilia are deferred, their spouses are deferred, UK residents are deferred, blood recipients are deferred, any persons who ever injected drugs, even once, are deferred…”

“Yes but we’re talking about this particular…”

O’Mahony: “Yes, but the same principle applies to all deferrals, if the deferral can be changed based on scientific evidence without increasing the risk to the safety of the blood supply, then it’s acceptable, if the deferral change means an increased risk to the blood supply, it’s not acceptable.”

“What’s the risk?”

“The risk is, there are two main categories of risk, one is the risk from known viruses such as HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C…”

Jennings: “Are they not screened for?”

“They are screened for, but probably the bigger risk is new infectious agents which, if in they’re in donors, can spread to donors before the agents are actually recognized and before there is a screening test.”

Jennings: “But new infectious agents could come from anybody, so why gay men?”

O’Mahony: “Gay men are one of the categories of people, along with people with haemophilia, along with U.K., residents who are categories of people with higher risk for transfusion-transmitted infections.”

Jennings: “What will be the increase to the risk if ban is lifted, or, more to the point, if the ban is lifted as suggested, with a twelve-month deferral?”

O’Mahony: “What we’re saying is that the Blood Transfusion Service has put forward a number of options to the Minister, a lifetime deferral, a five year deferral, an one year deferral and no deferral. We’re very happy to engage with the Minister and the Department to discuss this and we want the decision to be made based purely on the science.”

Jennings: “Yes, but on the science, what will the risk be increased by if the deferral is, if the ban is lifted or if it’s deferred by twelve months, do you know?”

O’Mahony: “Well, according to the report from the Blood Transfusion Service and the options they give to the Department, if the deferral is removed altogether then you’ll get a doubling of the risk of HIV if it’s five years, if it is one year it doesn’t give you adequate protection against unknown agents and if it’s five years they actually already, they actually state that, a deferral of five years in the past would not have protected people against HIV or Hepatitis C.”

Jennings: : “The UK. has lifted their ban with a twelve-month deferral, no change to risk, Australia the same, no change, Ireland imports blood from countries with more relaxed regimes so, without wishing to put it crudely, the blood of gay men is already in our system, yes?”

O’Mahony: “Well, you know, the fact that Germany, France, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands have not changed and still maintain a lifetime deferral is actually true, also there was an increased risk in Australia when they actually looked at the figures, there was an increased risk, there was an increased number of HIV-positive donations…”

Jennings: “I’m looking at an Australian study here, no evidence of significantly increased of transmution-transmitted or transfusion-transmitted human immunodeficiency virus infection in Australia subsequent to implementing a twelve-month deferral for men who have had sex with men. The point is this blood is already in our system and…”

O’Mahony: “No if you look at the report from the IBTS in the Department of Health it points out that there have been an increase in the number of HIV-positive donations in Australia…”

Jennings: “We’ve no evidence that the implementation of the twelve-month deferral for men who have sex with men resulted in an increased recipient risk for HIV in Australia. People who aren’t gay men donate blood, who engage in the same sexual practices that you say are a risk worthy of a ban. People who aren’t gay men donate blood and may have shared needles with infected partners, you’re still depending on honest disclosure for donors irrespective of who they are and good screening from blood authorities, why single out gay men, or more to the point sex between two men…”

O’Mahony: “Look, I appreciate the views of Stephen [during an earlier report] and other persons on the programme and I understand that if we could get rid of this deferral there would be a societal benefit but the fact is that donors are deferred, categories of people are deferred because there’s an increased risk of transmution-transmitted infection. Now, I’m absolutely fine with any change once the scientific evidence shows that that doesn’t increase the risk to the blood supply. When we engage with the Minister and the Department on this, if they say if they can show scientifically that this does not increase the risk to the blood supply, we’re happy with that.”

Jennings: “But you don’t know that this, this proposed type of ban will increase the risk do you?”

O’Mahony: “Well, there’s strong evidence that it will…”

Jennings: “Do you have any evidence there is strong evidence that a twelve-month deferral will increase the risk?”

O’Mahony: “There is strong evidence that it may increase the risk, it comes fro the Irish Blood Transfusion Service paper to the Department of Health.

Jennings: “No, they said a lifetime ban may double a risk that’s already small, they don’t give any evidence for what effect a twelve-month deferral ban will have.”

O’Mahony: “They clearly state that a twelve-month deferral would not protect you against any new infectious agent in the blood supply and new infectious agents come along all the time, I’ll remind you that in the last number of years we’ve had Hepatitis E, variant CJD, H1N1, H5N1, SARS, Ebola and XMRV, some of these have been capable of being transmitted by blood, the fact is, it’s not so much HIV we’re worried about, it’s a new infectious agent…”

Jennings: “From all men, not just gay men having sex, yes?”

O’Mahony: “We’re very happy to see a change in deferral if it doesn’t increase a risk in the blood supply, that has to be the only consideration.”

Listen here

Previously: Lift The Gay Blood Ban

James Reilly’s Letter About Gay Blood Doners

James And The Gay Blood Ban

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37 thoughts on “‘Why Single Out Sex Between Two Men?’

  1. PhilJo

    I worked in London in the late 80’s early 90’s and so I’m barred due to an increased risk of CJD, the recipient of the donated blood is the one taking the risk and so any scientific evidence of increased risk must be evaluated and the appropriate action taken. Particularly after the BTSB’s record with Hep-C

    With that said, has the increased risk of HIV associated with gay men been evaluated or was the ban a knee-jerk reaction.

    1. Bejayziz

      Does it actually say that no gay men can give blood or is it only if you have performed anal sex which would be for both straight and gay men who have partook in the activity?

      1. scottser

        yeah, it all looks like you can’t donate blood if you have a poodle and carry a man-bag. o’mahony sounds like he’s talking out his hoop.

        1. Clampers Outside!

          Would that be the hoop that may or may not have been stuffed within the last 12 months to 5 years, may have an aul virus, causing some form of verbal diarrhea.

          (Sorry Ma, if you were havin’ your tea when reading this)

          1. Spaghetti Hoop

            Don’t know what shocks me more – your eloquent language young Clampers, or the fact that your Ma reads Broadsheet.

          2. Jordofthejungle

            In fairness to Gavin Jennings, he was very well briefed. Excellent and precise questions. Well done to the researcher.

        2. benny

          Donation questionnaire is available here:


          Not a mention of poodles to be seen.

          There’s a lot more restrictive criteria on the checklist (laser eye surgery in the UK and handling monkeys being a couple of examples). Given the past history of infections spreading through blood transfusions, and the immense pain that has been caused, can ye not see the reason for their caution? Or do you think it’s all about poodles and man-bags?

  2. ivan

    “Now, I’m absolutely fine with any change once the scientific evidence shows that that doesn’t increase the risk to the blood supply. When we engage with the Minister and the Department on this, if they say if they can show scientifically that this does not increase the risk to the blood supply, we’re happy with that.””

    He’s not exactly a raging homophobe saying that if the gays can give blood it’s the end of civilization as we know it, is he? He seems to be cautious rather than dogmatically conservative, no?

  3. Burly

    I was born in Zambia in1971 and left in1973 and can never give blood. I can either accept that the welfare of the recipients is paramount and that it’s not worth taking any risk, or mince around whining about MY rights, discrimination and generally seeking attention…. I’ve always opted for the former course of action.

  4. Bonzor

    I have a lot of sympathy for O’Mahony. He’s a senior medical professional with the lives and health of thousands of people in his hands, making a risk-based assessment, and he has to put up with the misguided assumption that he and his department are some way homophobic.

    I would also like to donate blood, but I lived the UK for a number of years and I’m therefore banned. It’s not discrimination, it’s a carefully considered medical decision. The IBTS are generally chronically short of blood supplies, so they don’t go banning people for no reason.

    1. Bryan Kelly

      The IBTS DO go banning people for no reason, same as every other nation in the 80s when media scaremongering depicting AIDS as the “gay plague” caused the implementation of these bans.

      There is no scientific justification for this ban, and if he’s such a good man merely being portrayed as a bigot, why did he do what all bigots do and make up facts about what happened in Australia after they lifted it? Flat out lied and didn’t even apologise for it when the interviewer called him on it.

  5. Owen C

    Id go as far as to say that this is deeply suggestively insulting of O’Mahony and the IBTS. There’s no homophobic agenda here. He’s telling you that if science can show there is no increased risks, they will ease the restrictions, but if not, they feel that safety first should be the way to approach things. I am actually quite annoyed that people are trying to put the rights of the donors ahead of the rights of the people who need safe blood transfusions. Not everything is about PC agendas.

  6. newsjustin

    Mr O’Mahony’s last words on the matter sum up the matter perfectly: “We’re very happy to see a change in deferral if it doesn’t increase a risk in the blood supply, that has to be the only consideration.”

    The refrain around SSM is “what harm will it do you?” “how this negatively affect you or society?” The same questions asked here could (and this is what has to be trashed out) be answered with “it increases the risk to blood recipients.”

    This has to be resolved based on what is best for patients, blood recipients and the integrity of the system – not on what makes some gay men feel included.

  7. Ms Piggy

    I’m also excluded cos I was living in the UK in the 80s. But with regards to this issue, am I missing something here or does the entire debate centre on the possible increased risk from donors who have/have had anal sex? In which case gay men are only one demographic to be considered, since lots of straight women and men have anal sex. Why don’t the guideline phrase it like that?

    1. Odis

      Me to – and my brain hasn’t started dribbling out of my ears – yet.
      I think the increased risk from gays and anal sex as opposed to straights and anal sex, was said to be increased incidence of promiscuity amongst gay men.
      Now that’s what I call click-bait.

  8. Monkey fluid handler

    The ban is not about anal sex.

    HIV rates among men who have sex with men are many multiples of those among people who exclusively engage in heterosexual sex. In Ireland, homosexual activity is the mode of transmission for approx 50% of HIV diagnoses every year, even though men who have sex with men are a small minority of the population.

    Even among those diagnoses where the mode of transmission is heterosexual activity (38% in 2013), the majority (57%) are among people from countries with HIV epidemics (mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia), and these people area already banned from blood donations due to their country of origin.

    The IBTS ban on donations from men who have sex with men has nothing whatsoever to do with homophobia or some sort of cultural suspicion of gay men. It is about science and risk profile and it is a perfectly reasonable measure to ensure the safety of the blood supply and those who depend on it.

  9. PPads

    The IBTS ban on donations from men who have sex with men suggests their decisions are more emotionally based than they would care to admit. Is there a risk manager willing to shoot this nonsense down? I’ll personally pay for the @risk or pertmaster licenses.

  10. Llareggub

    Here we go again, Broadsheet implying homophobia where there is none. Like it or not, rectal sex does carry considerable health risks. Gay men are much more likely to practice rectal sex. Therefore the risk is greater among gay men. It’s common sense. Methinks that Dr Gavin Jennings doth protest too much.

  11. Nially

    The number of comments above along the lines of “Anal sex is just riskier, and it’s about all anal sex”: no, you’re wrong and you’re stupid.


    Look at question 33 & 34. I can give one blowjob, one time, using a condom, and be barred for life. I can have unprotected sex with any number of women and not be banned for life. That’s not risk-based logical scientific thinking, it’s using men-who-give-blowjobs as a proxy factor to rule out all gay men, because gay men are perceived as riskier. In the same way, they ban people who have traded sex for cash not because sex that’s paid for is inherently riskier, but as a proxy factor to rule out high-risk groups.

    It’s true that plenty of gay men engage in unsafe sexual practices (as do plenty of straight men, and plenty of women). What’s frustrating (and, yes, discriminatory) is that all gay men are assumed to be equivalently risky, so any indication at all that you’re a gay man rules you out. It’s really noticeable in the interview quoted above that any time O’Mahony is pushed on the question around new diseases, he doesn’t justify it further than “Well, gay men can have them”. The risk being estimated is based on stereotypes about gay behaviour that, while they may have some truth in aggregate, do not apply to all individual gay men.

      1. Nially

        Yes. Yes, I’m denying maths exists.

        Or, like, I’m denying that the “maths” being used here is pure, unbiased, objective logic that is unassailable. I mean, that’s probably more likely to be what I’m doing.

  12. Bryan Kelly

    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve read in ages (& I’m on Tumblr). There was zero scientific evidence for the implementation of the ban, but we demand it for lifting it. His argument that were still vulnerable to new, previously unidentified viruses is non-sensual. What exactly are men who have sex with men doing that makes them patient zero for the zombie plague or whatever apocalyptic plague scenario this guy’s thinking of?

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