French gay men could soon be able to donate blood, as the country's deputies prepare to vote in a new health bill.

There have been disputes over prohibitions on donations of blood or tissue for organ transplants from bisexual or gay men in the country.

Gay rights campaigners have been pushing for a change in legislation, as the law excludes gay men from donating blood due to the high prevalence of HIV among this population.

Health authorities hold the view the exclusion of gay blood donation is a precautionary measure, and point to the fact the number of people infected with HIV is 65 times higher among men who have sex with other men than among heterosexuals.

Advocacy groups, meanwhile, are demanding a total lift of the ban related to long-standing sexual orientation because they believe this exclusion is discriminatory.

They claim the restrictions on donation are based on homophobia not valid medical concerns since, they say, donations are meticulously tested to rule out donors that are infected with known viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C.

"Unacceptable" sexual orientation criterion

But in her announcement to the Assembly on the first day of the examination of the Marisol Touraine health bill in the Committee on Social Affairs, the Health Minister Marisol Touraine said that the preliminary questionnaire to the blood donation would be changed.

"It is not acceptable that sexual orientation is seen as an exclusion criterion," said the minister, who declared that potential modifications could be made in the coming days.

"It is up to the experts [of the National Consultative Ethics Committee] to assess the period of disqualification for blood donation," Touraine added.

Determining abstinence criterion

While the move has been welcomed by LGBT organisations, the Ministry of Health will still have to determine what new criteria to adopt: total abstinence, or absence of risky sexual practices such as having multiple partners, and the duration such of abstinence, for instance.

These type of restrictions vary from country to country, and in many cases men are deferred even though they always have protected sex or have not had sex with men for many years.

In Canada, for example, gay or bisexual men are requires to be abstinent for five years to donate blood, while this deferral period is lowered to a year in Britain.

In December last year, health officials in the US also recommended an end to America's lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

The Food and Drug Administration said it favoured replacing the outright ban with a new policy barring donations from men who have had gay sex in the previous year.