Israel Lifts Blood Ban For Gay/Bisexual Men

But is the new policy more trouble than it's worth?

Israel is now allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood regardless of the last time they’ve had sex. The policy, announced this week, was developed by the Israeli Health Ministry, lawmaker Merav Ben Ari, and Magen David Adom (MDA), the Israeli equivalent to the Red Cross.

But the process will be considerably more complicated: Blood donations will be checked for infectious diseases, then plasma will be separated and frozen for four months. Donors will then need to return for a second donation and, if that comes back negative for HIV and other infections, the first donation will be approved for use.

In the 1980s Israel instituted a lifetime blood donation ban on any men who had sex with men (MSM), but revised that in June 2017 to a one-year abstinence requirement. The new procedure does not replace the celibacy requirement—rather it offers an alternative.

The two-year pilot program is set to start in April.

“For years there was this frustrating situation where members of the LGBT community couldn’t donate blood and when they did, they had to deny their sexual preference,” said Ben Ari, who chairs Aguda, Israel’s leading LGBT rights organization. “This is good news for the community because it will lead to expanding the pool of blood donations and, as such, will save lives.”

Eilat Shinar, director of blood services at Magen David Adom, says given the requirements, he doesn’t expect a massive influx of donations. “We want more people to donate and at the same time we must preserve the safety of the blood units.”

According to a 2017 Aguda survey, 65% of respondents approved the new policy, which puts Israel ahead of the U.S, where a one-year celibacy requirement is still in effect.

Zachary Zane is a writer and activist whose work focuses on sexuality, culture, and academic research. He has contributed to The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, and The Advocate.