'I abstained from sex for 23 months': Gay UL student wins fight over blood donations


Anne Sheridan


Anne Sheridan

'I abstained from sex for 23 months': Gay UL student wins fight over blood donations

‘Battle not over’: Tomas Heneghan, UL graduate

A GAY graduate of the University of Limerick, who maintained a period of abstinence from sex for 23 months in his long-running battle to be able to give blood, achieved his objective this week.

But Tomas Heneghan, 25, who took his case to the High Court in 2015, believes that the fight for gay men is not over yet.

The ban was introduced after Aids emerged as a substantial health risk in the 1980s and, while the Government announced in July last year that it was ending its lifetime ban, it actually only came into affect this week.

Mr Heneghan has now given blood for the 11th time in his life, but if he wants to donate blood again he will have to obey another 12-month period of abstinence – a policy he feels also needs to be reformed.

The new blood donation policy for men who have sex with men was brought into effect this Monday, and Mr Heneghan presented at the IBTS offices on D’Olier Street in Dublin to give blood – the same premises from which he was previously turned away.

It has been over four years since Thomas was previously allowed to give blood. There, he again answered more than 30 questions addressing his eligibility to give blood, though not all relating to his sexuality – all relying on his own honesty, excluding the follow-up sample tests.

He began his period of abstinence since initiating High Court proceedings and vowed to continue it until the policy was changed. 

“I am here as the first open man who has had sex with another man to donate blood in the Republic of Ireland in over 30 years. I am here after fighting tooth and nail to push the Irish State on this important change.

“Blood donation is about giving an extraordinary gift to a stranger. Blood donations save lives and secure the health of thousands each year in this country. It may feel like the smallest of acts but it's an act which can change the lives of so many for the better.

“I've been an active donor since I was 18 and never imagined I would abruptly stop, especially when my blood was not only healthy and safe, but also in such consistently high demand from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service,” he said.

In 2014, he wrote to the IBTS, the Taoiseach, TDs, senators, and ministers, urging a change in the policy.

“I found myself in the High Court as a 23-year-old, fighting the State simply to be able to perform my civic duty and engage in this extremely important act to help improve and save lives,” said the criminal justice and sociology graduate.

Mr Heneghan, who also holds a graduate diploma in journalism, said he does not believe that this week’s change has “gone far enough.”

He is urging the State that the 12-month deferral is “discriminatory and disproportionate.”

“Alternatively,” he argued, “the only other scientific option would be to implement a donation ban on any donor who has had sex in the previous three months. This is due to a ‘window period’ in which the IBTS argues HIV can be undetectable through current testing methods.

Ireland’s rules on gay blood donors were in line with the most current scientific evidence and the practice in the UK, the HSE said.

About one in 10 people are stopped from giving blood by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) for a variety of reasons.