Is Everybody’s Blood in them to Give?
Canadian Blood Services still doesn’t allow sexually active gay men to donate blood
Sam Ridgway, Staff Writer
“We know that there is a dire need for blood in our province…I cannot think of a better way to provide for the community,” Joshua Van Camp says. “[When I was told] that I would not be eligible, I was in shock, I was shaking and upset and above all confused.”
Joshua Van Camp, an aspiring physician and fourth year Biology student at the University of Alberta, does not understand why “antiquated prejudices” against men who have sex with men (MSM) are still enforced as rules preventing blood donations.
When Van Camp first attempted to donate his vital, rare O negative blood he was turned away due to his classification as MSM. Despite Van Camp being tested for HIV only weeks earlier, Canadian Blood Services determined that his lifestyle was ‘too risky’ for him to be a donor.
“I left that office disappointed and hurt,” he says. “Ever since that experience I have felt some degree of shame.”
Thousands of men share Van Camp’s experience of rejection by Canadian Blood Services’ refusal to accept their donations because of their sexual orientation or activity.
In 2013, Canadian Blood Services altered their regulations to allow MSM donors who have been abstinent from MSM activities for five years; prior to this, MSM donors had to be abstinent since 1977.
The regulations were initially implemented following infectious transfusions given in the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was considered exclusive to the MSM community. The five-year rule is non-negotiable, even if the donor has had their blood screened and is perfectly healthy, and drug, disease, and infection free. The policy also includes transwomen, especially those whose government documentation still incorrectly identifies them as male.
Canadian Blood Services currently declines to comment on the issue, and refuses to provide any additional information on the decision aside from their 2013 press release and the accompanying information on their website.
Dr. Greta Bauer, Associate Professor and Graduate Chair of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Western University, says that while she understands Canadian Blood Services’ hesitation in allowing MSM donors through their doors, she does not agree that there is a scientific basis for the decision.
“The memory [of the tainted blood scandal] is very real and very large here in Canada,” she says. “It’s about the politics, rather than the science.”
A variety of other countries, including Britain and Australia, have already chosen to implement a deferral period of only one year, while the US, among other countries, maintains its lifetime ban. In the July 21, 2014 Journal of the American Medical Association, scholars said that a lifetime ban “may be perpetuating outdated homophobic perceptions.”
Although he believes that this change is one step in the right direction, Van Camp does not foresee it increasing donations.
“Unfortunately, most individuals willing to donate will not remain abstinent for five years just to donate blood,” Van Camp says.
The 2012 Annual HIV/AIDS Report published by Saskatchewan Health notes that MSM are only a risk factor in nine percent of new cases of HIV/AIDS, whereas heterosexual activity makes up 16% of new cases.
“[MSM] couples are not the only ones having anal sex, and they are not the only ones spreading HIV,” Van Camp emphasizes.
Advancements in medicine since the 1980’s also allow all blood to be tested for communicable diseases. This testing has become mandatory for all donated blood, and includes testing for Hepatitis C and other blood diseases.
Knowing that this testing is in place, Van Camp and Bauer both question the validity of MSM-discriminatory regulations.
“The waiting period has to be related to all of the different pathogens being tested for,” Bauer says. “A deferral period should be the same for all other risk groups, but there is a longer period for this group.”
Restrictions on MSM donations are one of many factors in the current blood shortage.
“I highly doubt that someone passing away due to a blood shortage is the best alternative,” Van Camp says.
Editors Note: As of Oct 21, 2015, The now-leading Liberal party’s website notes that they wil make an effort to introduce a policy “that is non-discriminatory and based on science.”