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Should Canada lift the ban on gay blood donors?

Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec have banned blood donations from gay men since 1983. According to an article this week from CBC the Canadian Blood Services wants to change that policy. The new mandate would allow gay men to donate blood if they haven’t had sex with a man in the last five years. The ban made sense in 1983 because at that time there was no effective way to test blood for HIV. It no longer makes sense in 2013. One of the reasons the 1983 ban has hung on so long is because many people became infected by HIV in the early 80s through blood transfusions. They and their families have mounted continuing pressure on the blood agencies to maintain the ban.

AIDS Awareness Associations throughout Canada maintain that the ban should be dropped completely pointing out that a five-year ban doesn’t provide any more of a safety-net than a one year ban would. The fact of the matter is that the ban is archaic and discriminatory, whether it be permanent or for the five years that they are calling for. With advanced HIV-testing technology in place, replacing the ban with a one-year deferral would mean that only one HIV-infected unit of blood per 11 million would enter the blood supply. It really makes no logical or medical sense to allow bed-hopping heterosexuals to donate blood while refusing gay men who have been in long-term committed relationships to donate. Truly our focus should be on the risk factors associated with certain practices and conditions such as multiple sexual partners and intravenous drug use, not sexual orientation.

The advantages of lifting the ban far outweigh the risks. Reducing the ban for gay men in stable relationships would increase the blood donor pool. In the United States, where a five-year deferral has been considered, it is estimated the blood donation pool would jump by 71,000, which is desperately needed.

Mexico is the first North American country to repeal its blanket ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood. The new rule prohibits people with hepatitis or HIV and their partners from donating. People who engage in risky sexual practices will also be banned from giving blood. This shifts the focus from same-sex sexual activity to high-risk unprotected sexual activity, a difference which will afford numerous gay men the option to contribute to blood supplies.

In the end, the logic of the ban, like most other blanket bans, has never really stood up to examination. It deals with homosexuality as though it were a high risk activity in and of itself. The ban does not take into account whether protection was used and whether the person is in a monogamous relationship. These are factors that, when added correctly, dramatically cut infection risk. And to prove the point that this ban is blindly discriminatory, heterosexual men and women are in not subjected to this type of treatment despite how risky their behaviour may have been. A change is definitely in order.


Until next time,

Peace, love and vitamin C!



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