January 28, 2011
Canadian Blood Services, the nation's federal blood donor agency, believes a lifetime ban on gay men giving blood is obsolete and wants the government to relax the rules. According to Lorna Tessier, CBS' director of public relations, "A lifetime ban extending by one year every year is just not sustainable. There have been lots of changes in the environment ... in testing [and] ... on the international front."
The policy, which dates from the early days of the AIDS epidemic, bars blood donations by any man who has had sex with another man even once since 1977. The ban pits those arguing safety first against those who believe the practice is discriminatory because certain sexual behaviors, not orientation, pose the real risk.
The debate could be nearing an end as CBS researches the issue and prepares to ask its regulator, Health Canada, to consider shortening the amount of time a gay man must be celibate before donating blood. Tessier said the agency is committed to determining what an appropriate restriction would be and is funding a $500,000 (US $500,379) grant administered by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.
CBS will formally ask Health Canada to change the policy based on its research findings. However, Health Canada spokesperson David Thomas said in an e-mailed statement that the regulator will not approve any changes that increase risk.
"HIV is not really the issue," said Canadian Hemophilia Society Executive Director David Page. He said emerging sexually transmitted pathogens with unknown incubation periods have been known to circulate first in the gay community. "It's tragic for that group of people, but that's the reality."
In September, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that donating blood is not a constitutional right. Justice Catharine Aitken, however, said there is insufficient evidence to support an indefinite deferral period that grows longer every year.