Continued controversy: Gay men face blood donation struggles

There are many reasons why Canadians might not be able to give blood.

You may have had a body piercing in the last six months, tried cocaine at any point in your life, or be under 17 years of age. However there is another, less popular restriction that is creating controversy in the medical world. If a man has had sex with another man at any time after 1977, he is restricted from donating blood.

The ban is not limited to men. If a woman has had sex with a man who had sex with another man since 1977, she too is restricted from giving blood. Women who have had sex with other women are exempt from the restriction. The cut-off year was established as 1977 due to HIV becoming more widespread at the time and being better understood internationally.

Recently groups have protested the restriction on the grounds of homophobia. Both San Jose University and Southern Oregon University have cancelled campus blood drives. Carleton University voted earlier this year to uphold their ban of blood clinics on campus. Such protests have not yet hit the Brantford community, though this does not mean students are unaware of the issue.

Rebecca Andrews, a second year Health Wellness and Fitness student at Mohawk College, voiced her opinions on the issue.

“I can see where [the Canadian Blood Services] are coming from, since the rate of gay men getting AIDS is higher. But I don’t think it should be a restriction. They shouldn’t discriminate against people based on sexual preference.”

The Canadian Blood Services maintains the necessity of each of its donor screening questions, including those that prohibit men who have slept with men from donating blood. Veronica Magee, Communications Specialist for the Canadian Blood Services, explains the organization’s reasoning for the restriction.

“All of our policies are in place to ensure a safe supply of blood products for patients who rely on them for treatment. This means certain individuals may be restricted from giving blood. Our bottom line is the safety of the patient.”

However all donated blood, once collected, undergoes intense screening for HIV or other diseases. Out of an estimated 46, 913 diagnoses of HIV by the Centre for Disease Control in 2010, approximately 28, 782 of them were contracted from male-to-male sexual contact. This may serve to support the Canadian Blood Services’ decision. However of these 46, 913 people diagnosed, fewer than 50 contracted HIV from a blood transfusion.

This means that of every person diagnosed in 2010, less than 0.001002 per cent of them received HIV from a blood transfusion.

Magee explained that there is potential for future change to the Canadian Blood Services’ restrictions.

“We’ve been pursuing data that might inform a policy change regarding MSM (men who have sex with men). Our board of directors recently passed a policy to re-examine our restrictions. We would reduce our policy to no less than five years and no more than ten. It’s definitely a first step.”

This means that a man who has slept with another man could donate blood, but only if he has not slept with a man in the past five years.

Lowering the restrictions on blood donation is not impossible. The proposed notion is similar to the policy in Australia, where men who have slept with men must not do so for only one year before donating blood.

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