Leo Varadkar wants to end ban on gay blood donations

Leo Varadkar
Image caption Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar said that he supports calls for the rules on blood donations from gay men to be relaxed, but is to seek opinion from doctors and patients

A lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men in the Republic of Ireland should end, the Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said.

The ban, put in place during the 1980s AIDS threat, means that a man who has had sex with another man at any stage is not allowed to give blood.

The minister has said that he supports calls for the rules to be relaxed.

He said he was in favour of allowing donations from gay men who have not had sex for a year.

'Sexual orientation'

Mr Varadkar made the remarks in a statement to the Irish state broadcaster, RTÉ.

He said he would take advice from the chief medical officer and seek opinions from patients before making a final decision.

Last week, Mr Varadkar revealed that he is gay.

The 36-year-old minister said he had decided to speak publically about his sexuality for the first time as he would be campaigning in support of same-sex marriage in the forthcoming referendum in May.

He said he did not want people to think he had a "hidden agenda".

Mr Varadkar added: "I won't be allowing my own background or my own sexual orientation to dictate the decisions that I make."

In relation to gay blood donations, he told RTÉ relaxing the blanket ban would bring the Republic of Ireland into line with many other English-speaking countries.

A similar move in the United Kingdom has caused controversy in Northern Ireland.

Image caption Northern Ireland's former health minister Edwin Poots maintained a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men, despite rules being relaxed in the rest of the UK

The lifetime ban on blood donations by gay men was relaxed in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011.

However, Northern Ireland's then Health Minister Edwin Poots maintained the total ban, saying he was acting to ensure public safety.

'Apparent bias'

A gay man launched a judicial review challenge to Mr Poots' position on blood donation, claiming the minister's stance was prejudiced by his religious beliefs.

A High Court judge ruled in October 2013 that Mr Poots did not have the power to keep an "irrational" lifetime ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland.

In a further ruling in the case earlier this month, the High Court ruled Mr Poots' decision to maintain the ban had been "infected by apparent bias" and influenced by Christian beliefs.

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