Organ donation ban re-ignites MSM debate

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Student activists at Western are upset over Health Canada’s recent legislation changes, which prohibit organ donations from men who have had sex with other males in the past five years.

In a recent revision of its regulation that came into effect in December, Health Canada identified sexually active gay men as members of a high-risk group, which includes people with recent piercings or tattoos and inmates of correctional facilities, that are at a high risk for contracting infectious diseases including Hepatitis C and HIV.

Carole Saindon, media relations contact for Health Canada, insisted the rules are based on eliminating risk for safety purposes and not lifestyle choices.

The tests used to screen for HIV are not 100 per cent valid because there is a lag period between contraction of HIV and its appearance on a test that can last up to three months.

“The last thing we want to do is miss a healthy organ, but we do have an obligation to the recipients,” Dr. Bill Wall, former director of the Multi-Organ Transplant Program at the London Health Sciences Centre, said.

In the fall of 2007 four transplant recipients in Chicago contracted HIV from a high-risk organ donor whose infection went undetected.

Saindon said last year Health Canada consulted every transplant and donor organization in Canada over its revised regulations.

“No group or association expressed concerns about the new standards-based regulations during the consultation period.”

The new rule is another disappointment for those already angered by Health Canada’s June decision to maintain its ban on blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man since 1977.

Joshua Ferguson, director of Standing Against Queer Discrimination, wrote in a press release yesterday: “The use of stereotypes and outdated beliefs to restore the public’s trust is being chosen instead of rigorous scientific research, and this is not acceptable from an organization which claims to have the best interests of all Canadians at heart.”

He said, “[The organ donor regulation] illustrates both the arbitrariness of [Health Canada’s] policies with respect to gay men and its lack of commitment to any real change of its discriminatory and blatantly homophobic policies.”

The five-year restriction may not be as extreme as Canadian Blood Service’s indefinite ban, but Ferguson does not see it as an improvement.

“It illustrates how arbitrary these deferral periods are.”

Dr. Wall admitted, “There’s no scientific rationale for going beyond one year.”

He pointed out the regulation is not the same as an outright ban. Health Canada has allowed for a condition called “exceptional release” in which a transplant specialist can overrule the restriction based on his or her clinical judgment.

“If one man has had sex with another man and it is a monogamous relationship, that is an entirely different category than someone who has had a few dozen different partners,” Dr. Wall explained.

Ferguson saw this as a move in the right direction. “It sounds to me like they are focusing on asking questions about risky sexual behaviour, which is what we want.”

At press time, Wall said after digesting the material he and a group of other transplant specialists in Ontario have decided to approach the federal government and see about changing the wording in the regulations to better reflect what has been intended.

“The intention is to make organ transplantation safe, but the wording of this doesn’t have it quite right,” Wall explained.

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette