Plea against ban on blood donation by gay, transgender persons

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the government to respond to a plea challenging blood donation guidelines which ban transgender persons, members of the gay community and sex workers from donating blood.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde issued notice on a petition filed by Thangjam Santa Singh @ Santa Khurai, represented by advocates Jayna Kothari and Thulasi K. Raj, which said the prohibition affected these communities during the pandemic as their members could not donate or receive blood, a healing element, during the public health crisis.

The petition said the Guideline on Blood Donor Selection and Blood Donor Referral of 2017, issued by the National Blood Transfusion Council and the National Aids Control Organisation, classifies transgender persons, men having sex with men and female sex workers as a “high-risk category” vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

“Donor blood is tested for infectious diseases, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. Such a ban solely on the basis of their gender identity and sexual orientation is completely arbitrary, unreasonable and discriminatory. It is also unscientific… Permanently excluding these communities from donating blood and categorising them as high-risk only on the basis of their gender-identity and sexual orientation is violative of their right to be treated equally as other blood donors,” the petition said.

The court, however, did not stay the operation of the 2017 guidelines, saying it cannot delve into issues which were primarily scientific in nature.

Ms. Kothari, in her submissions, said the guidelines perpetuated a stigma that these communities were “less worthy and subordinate in social participation and healthcare”.

“During the pandemic, many members of the community, who needed blood, were unable to get it from their trans-relatives and loved ones due to the guidelines. Persons who are barred are not even able to donate plasma for research for COVID-19… A large number of transgender persons are sex workers, and hence they are covered under both exclusions of being transgender as well as being sex workers and permanently prohibited from being donors,” the petition contended.

With people still dying of the virus, the petition said blood supplies have come under pressure.

“There is more need for blood and plasma donations,” it said.

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