A reader asks our legal expert, Matt Parr whether as a gay man, he can donate bone marrow.
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?
Thanks for your question, it’s great that you have thought about the need to donate bone marrow.
However, the main difference between the donation of blood and bone marrow is that to donate bone marrow you would first need to have a thorough medical examination before being permitted to donate.
You’re mistaken in your perception that gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men cannot donate blood full stop. Blood donation in the UK works on the values of kindness and mutual trust. The NHS Blood and Transplant service relies on all potential and existing donors to adhere to the blood donor selection rules by giving completely accurate answers to all the questions asked of them when they visit the donation centres. The questions and answers are given in complete confidence and exist for their own protection and for the health of patients who receive their blood.
The rules around gay and bisexual men giving blood changed in November 2017 following extensive campaigning by organisations such as the Terence Higgins Trust. Subsequently, providing that the donor meets the other donation rules, gay, bisexual or people who have sex with partners in groups at high risk of having an infection that could be passed on during sex will be able to donate after three months have passed since the last sexual activity.
The previous exclusion period extended to 12 months and many argued that this did, therefore, place an unrealistic expectation of celibacy on those who wished to donate and many saw it as, in reality, a blanket ban on donations from gay and bisexual men.
If donating Bone Marrow 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 to consider contacting the NHS Blood and Transplant service or Anthony Nolan to discuss the process in further detail.