Ending UK Gay Blood Donation Ban Raises Questions for Canada

by | September 21, 2011
filed under Can-Con, LGBT, Politics

Blood Donation

Earlier this month the UK announced they would be lifting the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood. The move immediately made news internationally, including in both the US and Canada, where gay men are still not allowed to donate blood.

In the States, John Kerry called this the “start of a trend globally that I’d rather be leading than following”. And spokespeople for Canadian Blood Services and Hemo-Quebec told Yahoo! News they know the ban is untenable in the long term.

But not every gay man in Britain will be able to donate. According to the Guardian:

Those who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the preceding 12 months, with or without a condom, will remain ineligible to join the 2 million people who already donate blood.

They have been put into the same category of risk as other groups such as sex workers, anyone who has had sex with a sex worker or intravenous drug-user in the past year, and women who have slept with a man who has had sex with another male.

The Liberal Democrats discussed the issue at their party’s annual conference and argued the 12-month deferral is based on stigma, not science. As Queerty points out, gay people aren’t the only people capable of catching and spreading HIV, Hepatitis, and other diseases transmittable through blood donation:

Health officials say that the waiting time will allow HIV and Hep B to be detectable in the blood. For some reason, these same officials aren’t worried about Hep B and HIV in straight people’s blood because straight people don’t ever catch those diseases… and if they do they’re less deadly… or something.

Although the Canadian blood donation agencies are talking about emulating Britain’s change, unfortunately some are proposing an even more restrictive and arbitrary policy, which would force gay men to be celibate (regardless of whether they use condoms) for five years before being able to donate. According to Yahoo: “Initially Hema-Quebec suggested a 12-month deferral, but after experiencing push-back from some government experts and from groups representing people who need frequent blood transfusions, it is now recommending a five-year deferral.”

I’ve donated blood in Canada, though I’ve stopped recently in opposition to the ban on gay blood donors. You have to fill out a questionnaire and be questioned by a nurse. And even after that you get a special barcode you can put on your vial if you think you might have a risk factor for a disease. Each time I donated I was told my blood would be tested thoroughly.

As About.com points out: “Since most blood transfusions require weeks of preparation there is ample time to re-test as a precaution. Not to mention, the policy virtually ignores the health risk posed by heterosexual donors who’ve been exposed to HIV or AIDS.”

It smacks of homophobic stigma that I, as a straight woman, am allowed to donate blood regardless of how many sexual partners I have, whether I use a condom with my partner or whether I’ve ever been tested for HIV or other potentially communicable diseases,  while a gay man who uses condoms faithfully with a long-term partner and who has been tested for HIV would be banned. Although one thing that would bar me from donating would be if I’d had sex with a man who’d had sex with a man, even once since 1977. They are that afraid of gay blood.

Being gay is not a risk factor in and of itself: unsafe sex is. When Health Canada lifts the ban on gay men donating blood, they should follow science instead of catering to unfounded fears and unjustified prejudices.


Photo by MartinD via Wikimedia Commons.

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