Blood Services upholds gay policy

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Donating blood

Paul Sham

AIN'T IT GREAT TO DONATE BEFORE YOUR HOT DATE? Canadian Blood Services is always in need of blood donors. We'll pimp Blood Services while we weakly attempt to live up to Eminem.

Blood, it’s in you to give, unless you’re a sexually active gay man.

This past June, Canadian Blood Services decided to uphold its policy to indefinitely defer the use of blood from any man who has had sex with another male since 1977.

Angry about this stance, Meghan Adams, director of activism for Pride Western, will focus on the issue this year. She believes the policy unnecessarily singles out a group of people.

Canadian Blood Services, however, insisted it was not discriminating against anyone. It says the limitations are about caution.

Donated blood is always tested, but since HIV might not show up on a test for up to three months after infection, Blood Services believes the policy is necessary.

“It’s based on the safety of blood. It’s not a discrimination policy,” insisted Cindy Graham, regional communications manager for Southern Ontario Canadian Blood Services.

Adams, however, thinks the ban is unfair. “HIV is everyone’s problem.

“Safety is the real issue, but we can achieve safety in a way that doesn’t make anyone feel targeted,” she said.

According to Graham, however, the policy does not target gay people specifically, but rather a risky behaviour pattern.

She welcomed any gay man who had not had sex with another man since 1977 to donate blood.

Men who have had sexual intercourse with other men are not the only ones scrutinized. Graham said everyone is questioned on his or her level of sexual promiscuity and people who have recently visited areas where Malaria or vCJD are common are banned from donating for a year.

Adams thinks there are better approaches to the concern.

“We recognize [gay men] could pass [HIV] on ... but a neutral question could be equally effective.”

She suggested a question that incorporates everyone, rather than specifically gay men: “Have you had sex with someone whose HIV status you didn’t know?”

There are plenty of homosexual men in steady relationships where neither they nor their partner has HIV, Adams said.

“It’s much more important that a young, sexually-active person practices safe sex and is aware of their partner’s status than what gender their partner is.”

But for Graham, it’s about being as cautious as possible and protecting those using blood transfusions.

“The statistics say that any man who has had sex with another man has an increased risk [of contracting HIV].”

A second-year law student at Western who wished to remain anonymous remembered a case study where a woman sued after contracting HIV from a blood transfusion in the 80s.

“I agree that [transfusions from sexually active gay men] shouldn’t be allowed, but then again, it’s stereotyping,” he said. “If statistics say that, then maybe it’s true.”

Adams said a student-run project called Students Supporting Gay Donors is circling a petition against the controversial policy. She encourages students to sign the petition.

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