SAQD takes to Parliament Hill

NDP health critic will present petition to House of Commons

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

For a group that started out as a small organization of Western students, Standing Against Queer Discrimination (SAQD) has made quite the impact in national politics.

In February, SAQD spearheaded a National Day of Action on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Alongside several Members of Parliament and students from across the province, Western students protested against the policy banning men who have had sex with men (MSM) from donating organs and blood.

Now SAQD is teaming up with Judy Wasylycia-Leis, MP for Winnipeg North and New Democratic Party health critic, to raise awareness in Parliament.

Members of SAQD collected signatures for a petition to the government of Canada to end the ban on gay organ donors and now Wasylycia-Leis will present the signatures in the House of Commons.

Joshua Ferguson, director of SAQD, said there is a total of 1,500 signatures on the petition.

Wasylycia-Leis was supportive of the student activist group and expressed surprise at the government’s regulations.

“We first heard about the issue about a month or so back ... I couldn’t imagine the government had put forward a policy that was based on discriminatory criteria,” she said.

A meeting of the Standing Committee on Health on March 4 also sparked debate on the MSM policy.

It was announced that as of April 1, Canadian Blood Services would assume responsibility for some of the national services for organ and tissue donation.

Ferguson said this explains why the exclusionary regulations now apply to organs as well as blood donations.

“They’re really not interested in moving forward and I think that’s a clear example,” he said.

Wasylycia-Leis, who attended the meeting, said it was made clear many are unsupportive of the policies.

“A couple of very strong witnesses were demonstrating the need for organ donors and decrying the fact that this is just going to jeopardize people’s lives because it will discourage the donation of organs,” she said.

However, Paul Spendlove, media relations officer for Health Canada, stood by the policy: “These regulations are based on risk for safety purposes and not lifestyle choices.”

He also explained the organs can still be used as long as the recipient is aware of the risk and gives consent.

But Wasylycia-Leis thinks Health Canada is going about it the wrong way.

“We already have one of the lower donor rates in the western developed world. What we’re doing now is putting another roadblock in the way,” she stated.

In addition to being superfluous to the current checks and balances doctors already use for donations, Wasylycia-Leis criticized the regulations for not reflecting facts.

She explained recent evidence shows the highest rise in HIV and AIDS is among aboriginal people and heterosexual people involved in high risk behaviour, not sexually active gay men.

“Either they’re trying to hide the fact that the science exists or they’re not up to date with the current science,” Wasylycia-Leis said.

If all goes as planned, Wasylycia-Leis will present the petition at the next meeting of Parliament on March 31.

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