Saturday, October 11, 2014

Canadian Blood Services May Lower Restrictions For Gay Donors

Canadian Blood Services may loosen restrictions on gay donors

Canadian Blood Services' motto is "It's in you to give," but to thousands of Canadian men they say, "no thanks." That may soon change.

Photograph by: Chris Roussakis/Postmedia ,

Canadian Blood Services may further lower its restrictions on gay men who want to donate, but the agency wants to know what you think first.

The non-profit currently bans men who have had sex with other men in the past five years from donating blood, ostensibly because they have a higher risk of carrying HIV/AIDs or other pathogens. That policy was actually eased in May 2013, before which gay or bisexual men faced a lifetime ban.

An online Ipsos Reid survey posted September 18 asks respondents what they think of a ban only on men who have had sex with other men in the past year.

“At this time, Canadian Blood Services is collecting data, which includes further stakeholder consultation, to inform the next steps around this policy,” said spokesperson Adrienne Silver in an email. “A further reduction may be possible in the future and must be rooted in scientific evidence, Canadian statistics and the data we are currently collecting.”

“In addition, any policy change Canadian Blood Services wishes to make needs the approval of our regulator, Health Canada.”

The survey starts out with an explanation of Canadian Blood Services past and current policies.

And though the agency says the survey is unrelated to their current shortage of blood, it does ask respondents if they would be more likely to donate if it were eased. Some members of the LGBT community also take issue with appeals for blood, like the one issued last week, when men in loving and long-term relationships with other men are barred from donating. A straight woman with a risky sexual history could be more likely to carry a blood-borne pathogen, they argue.

“When I hear them sort of pandering to the public for blood donations, I can’t help but get angry over the fact that I can’t. You just think of all these people who need blood and I’m sitting here, a healthy eligible person, but because of my sexual orientation I can’t give blood,” Eric Bell, 23, told the Regina Leader-Post earlier this month.

Though the online poll was released just shortly before Canadian Blood Services appealed for donors, Silver said it was set up in the summer and is unrelated. She also noted that such public surveys are a Health Canada requirement when mulling policy changes.

The lifting of the life-time ban on donations was lauded by some sexual assault advocates, who said the old rules excluded men who were raped or molested as children from donating as adults. But for many, it was also a half-measure. Reducing the waiting period from five years to one year is still discriminatory to gay men who are in healthy sexual relationships, some advocates argue.

The Young Liberals of Canada — the youth wing of the federal party — has recent begun advocating against the policy.

“While there is more to do to ensure anyone — be they gay, bisexual, straight or questioning — practices safe sex, singling out men who sleep with men for limiting treatment flies in the face of equity and of safety,” Jonathan Combie, vice-president of policy for the youth wing of the party recently wrote. “It is unsafe to exclude people from donating blood based on a generalization with no particular screening for the unique circumstances of an individual.”

“A UCLA study showed that potentially millions of lives could be saved were the U.S. to repeal its ban. We can no doubt extrapolate similar results for Canada,” he added.

Anyone can be barred from donating, permanently or for a set period of time. Potential donors are asked a series of questions about sexual history and practices. For example, someone who had an unprotected one-night-stand would be barred from donating. Travelling to areas with malaria — even just a hike through a jungle in Mexico — prevents Canadians from rolling up their sleeves for a set period of time. And recent tattoos and piercings will also prevent someone from giving blood.

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