Northern Ireland's health minister announced Thursday that her office is lifting a ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, five years after the rest of the United Kingdom did the same.
The 35-year-old rule was instated in 1981 at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, which was, erroneously, considered to be a disease concentrated among men who had sex with men.
Medical research presented to the British parliament in 2011 showed that the ban was unnecessary, but it stood in Northern Ireland and went through a series of appeals in court, culminating in Thursday's decision. Northern Ireland had already been receiving donated blood from the rest of the United Kingdom, which may contain blood donated from gay and bisexual men.
A BBC investigation in February found that the Northern Ireland government had no independent evidence to uphold the ban. In a crisply worded ruling, a judge in Northern Ireland's High Court wrote that the ban was "infected by apparent bias."
Men who disclose that they have had sex with other men still have to wait through a "one-year deferral period" across the U.K. before donating blood. Northern Ireland Health Minister Michelle O'Neill did not touch on the scientific community's agreement that the ban was outdated, nor its implications for equal rights for gay and bisexual men. Instead she couched her statement on safety concerns.
“My first responsibility in this matter is patient safety. Evidence from across the UK has provided assurance that the risk is lower with a one-year deferral," she said. "My decision is based solely on the evidence regarding the safety of donated blood."
More on WorldViews: