Canadian Blood Services could relax donor ban on gay men

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew
More than 50,000 donations are needed between now and Labour Day, Canadian Blood Services said.

Are the winds of change slowly coming over Canadian Blood Services strong enough to lift them beyond its current refusal to accept blood donations from men who have had sex with other men?

Probably not yet, but a potential easing of its all-out ban could be the first symbolic step toward equality in blood donor clinics.

CBC News reports that Canadian Blood Services wants to change its long-standing ban on blood donations from gay men, put in place over the fear of HIV and AIDS in the community.

According to the report, the health group would like to allow donations from men who have not had sex with another man in the last five years. It would be a small step — more symbolic than earth-shattering, considering the changes made in other countries recently.

[ Related: Canadian Blood Services wants to allow gay men to donate ]

The fact is there have been vast improvements to blood testing since the 1980s, when a tainted-blood scandal scarred the system that collects blood for Canadian transfusions and shook the public’s confidence.

Today, a lifetime ban, even a years-long deferral, is not necessary.

It is bizarre to hear that, in today’s day and age, there is a flat-out ban based on sexual orientation. It sounds suspiciously like discrimination, and that is what gay rights advocates maintain.

That point is debated in a Calgary Herald editorial from last month, which states that safety should be the No. 1 concern and that a ban makes sense, considering the AIDS virus can remain undetected in the blood for weeks or months.

The editorial reads:

The current lifetime ban, or any changes to it, do not stigmatize gay men. They reflect sound medical evidence about a public health issue - and public health must trump the injured feelings of a few.

Homosexual men are still the group most affected by HIV. According to the latest statistics from the Public Health Agency of Canada, 46.7 per cent of all cases in Canada are found in men who have had sex with men. But that still only accounts for a small percentage of that community.

Experts suggest a ban is not necessary based on the quality of screenings that are held and the current risk of HIV transmission. Dr. Mark Wainberg, head of the McGill University AIDS Centre, says stigma has allowed the plan to live on for so long, adding there is no reason not to allow donations from homosexual men in monogomous relationships.

The movement is already catching on elsewhere. In 2011, the U.K. replaced its own lifetime ban with a deferral for men who have had sex with men in the past 12 months. Australia's ban is also 12 months, although they are reviewing a recommendation to drop that to six months.

[ Related: Man makes 500th blood donation, sets sights on 600th time ]

And the Huffington Post reports that Mexico ended its ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men in December, replacing it with a screening process based on sexual history, not orientation.

Canadian Blood Service faces blood shortages, and they rightfully put a high value on ensuring they avoid another tainted blood scandal. But it is not the 1980s anymore. We have the technology to ensure clean blood transfusions.

And the common sense not to paint every homosexual male with the same brush.