Blood donations are a gift thousands of people depend on to survive. However, due to a 1977 prohibition, many gay men are denied the opportunity to donate.
Canadian Blood Services (CBS) has announced it is investigating a change in policy that has banned men who have had sex with men from donating blood.
CBS says it hopes to reduce the time they must wait as well as target precise high-risk sexual activities instead of focusing on orientation.
“Both patient groups and Canadian Blood Services agree that the current lifetime ban needs to be reconsidered,” a statement on the CBS website said.
CBS has reached out to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the months since a court ruling decided the prohibition was not discriminatory due to scientific evidence.
The court case involved Freeman — whose first name was never released publicly — a sexually active gay man who donated blood and repeatedly gave misleading answers during the screening process.
Freeman then sent an anonymous email to CBS saying he gave incorrect information because he disagreed with the MSM — males who have sex with males — policy.
Janet Wong, a spokesperson for CBS, said that was the first time such a case was brought forward.
“As a result of the email, CBS was required to pull that unit of blood from the system,” she said. “In order to do that, we needed to apply to the courts to have the Internet service provider release Mr. Freeman’s name.”
Freeman then counter-sued CBS and the attorney general of Canada. He charged that the policy was discriminatory under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“A lifetime deferral on MSM just isn’t supported by logic,” said Marcus McCann, managing editor of the Canadian gay and lesbian news site Xtra.ca.
CBS has set aside money for research into the deferral issue, Wong said.
“If research shows that safety will be maintained with a lower deferral period, a submission to Health Canada would be then required,” she said.
It’s then up to Health Canada to decide whether to grant the lower deferral, Wong said.
“Certainly, an HIV infection would show up in your blood after 6 months, even using the most rudimentary testing methods,” McCann said. “Therefore, a six-month or one-year deferral after a risky sexual encounter makes sense.”
On Jan. 25, CBS and University of Toronto Scarborough Campus fraternity Xi Alpha Pi held a donation clinic at UTSC.
“We have been working on the blood donor clinic with Canadian Blood Services since 2009,” fraternity member Rupom Rahman said.
CBS and Xi Alpha Pi have not faced any obstacles regarding MSM donations at any of the clinics they’re hosted, he said.