Editorials and Commentary
Confidence in Blood Supply Must Rank First
March 19, 2002
"If the tainted blood scandal of the 1980s taught Canadians anything, it was the need to err on the side of caution. Jol Pinon, the Quebec City man who is threatening to take Hema-Quebec to court over its exclusion of gay men as blood donors, is wrong to present his case as a gay rights issue.
"Mr. Pinon is doing a disservice not only to Hema-Quebec and blood recipients but also to his fellow gays and society as a whole, in that this approach trivializes the important issue of gay rights. In any case, donating blood is not a right. It is a privilege accorded to those who meet the stringent criteria in place, the only aim of which is to ensure the safety of blood recipients.
"Before those rigorous measures -- including the testing of blood -- were put into place, hundreds of Canadians became infected with HIV... and many more contracted hepatitis C.
"Testing alone is an inadequate measure, because there can be a lag of several days between HIV infection and when it can be detected. For hepatitis C, the lag is about a month. So screening out higher-risk donors remains necessary. No one need feel stigmatized if they fail to meet Hema-Quebec's criteria, which exclude a large chunk of the population.
"...Mr. Pinon is right, of course, to suggest that the many gay men who practice safe sex would probably make perfectly good donors. But according to Health Canada, one out of every 65 gay men who are HIV-positive in fact believed that they had been practicing safe sex.
"So it remains sensible to err on the side of caution.... Mr. Pinon should not take Hema-Quebec's hyper-caution so personally. When lives are at stake -- as well as public confidence in the blood supply system -- no amount of caution seems excessive, and the interests of recipients should come well ahead of the pride of would-be donors."
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.