This week our legal expert Matt Parr answers a question about Bone Marrow Donation for gay men in the United Kingdom.
I know that gay men can’t currently give blood – but I was wondering about bone marrow. If someone in my family was to need my bone marrow for surgery can I legally give it? Also if I just wanted to give bone marrow to anyone, regardless of any family connection is this possible or legal?
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Thanks for your question, it’s great that you have thought about the need to donate bone marrow.
The main difference between the donation of blood and bone marrow however is that to donate bone marrow you would first need to have a thorough medical examination before being permitted to donate it.
You’re mistaken in your perception that gay men cannot donate blood full stop; the criteria recently changed in 2011 and it is now only if they have had anal or oral sex with a man in the last 12 months with or without a condom will they not be permitted to donate. This is simply because of the increased risk of the unknown exposure to HIV/AIDS. In order to donate bone marrow through NHS Blood and Transplant you need to already have joined the blood donor list. Effectively, therefore the same criteria apply to the donation of bone marrow as to blood.
NHS Blood and Transplant rely on people being as honest as possible (and realistic) when questioning them on the possibility of them being HIV positive (backed up by their own stringent screening processes, which of course are never fail safe).
If donating through the Anthony Nolan charity, however, then you will not be permitted to donate if you (or your partner) are, or think you are HIV positive or you are involved in high-risk sexual practices that may increase your exposure to sexually-transmitted diseases (amongst others). In essence, the decision as to whether you can donate will depend on a number of factors, both sexual and health related- not sexuality.
There is no strict 12 month time frame of celibacy prior to donating.
The best advice I can give you is consider contacting the NHS Blood and Transplant service to discuss the process. If you are a sexually active gay man then your options are limited to donating through Anthony Nolan.
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