HIV-positive blood donor accused of lying thought oral sex didn’t count

File photo of a blood bag. Photo: Ahmad Ardity
File photo of a blood bag. Photo: Ahmad Ardity

A blood donor accused of lying about his sexual history was acquitted in court today after arguing that he didn’t think oral sex counted as sex.

The case against the unidentified 37-year-old man, who is HIV-positive, was dismissed by the judge based on his explanation. He had earlier pleaded guilty in the case to falsely state that he had not had sex with a man in the past year prior to donating blood in May.

He was charged with lying about his sexual history last week after the HIV-infected blood was found in a routine test and traced back to him.

Singapore does not allow men who have had sex with other men to donate blood, even those married or involved in longterm, monogamous relationships. The medical rationale is that anal sex has a much higher chance of transmitting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. On the other hand, oral sex has a very low chance of transmission. 

That charge has now been withdrawn and the man given a stern warning instead. 

“After careful consideration of the circumstances of your case as disclosed by investigations, as set out below, you are hereby warned to refrain from committing any further offence and to comply with the law at all times. If you commit any offence in future, the same leniency may not be shown towards you,” the Health Ministry wrote in its order to the man. 

The authorities did not say when he was diagnosed with HIV, but the fact that he wasn’t charged with a more serious crime – and let off with a warning – suggests he was likely unaware of it at the time. 

He told the court that his diagnosis had left him depressed, jobless, and unable to afford treatment. He was represented by lawyer Ashwin Ganapathy of IRB Law. 

The judge rejected his plea after he told court that he did not know that having oral sex with a man in 2017 would be considered sex. He also said that he had decided to make the donation because he wanted to help since Singapore was experiencing a shortage in blood during the pandemic in April.

Policies vary from country to country. The United States last year relaxed its “deferral period” last year to three months due to the pandemic, four years after it established it as a one-year period.

Singaporean men are not allowed to donate blood if they have contracted AIDS or HIV or also engaged in other high-risk activities such as having sex with multiple partners or commercial sex workers.

Singapore’s Health Department definition of “sex” includes vaginal, oral and anal, with or without the use of contraceptives.

Had he been convicted, the man could have faced up to two years’ jail and a fine of S$20,000 (US$15,000).

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