Blood donation policy debated in Ottawa

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Canadian Blood Services has faced many criticisms about its Men who have Sex with Men deferral policy. The controversial policy prevents males who have had sex with another male since 1977 from donating blood.

This past Monday, a meeting occurred in Ottawa between CBS and several other groups, including Standing Against Queer Discrimination. The meeting allowed the groups to present their opinions on the policy and discuss possible amendments.

“I thought the meeting went very well. We are aware of the impact that this [MSM] policy has on various different groups,” said Lorna Tessier, national director of public relations for CBS. “One of our current goals is to communicate better with the LGBTQ community. We need to start building positive relationships.”

“The MSM policy has been in place for many years and we inherited it from the Red Cross. We now need to develop a common understanding between all groups and we cannot go to Health Canada unless we have scientific evidence from researchers to support changing the policy. Ultimately, Health Canada has to make the decision,” she added.

“SAQD believes it is important to maintain pressure on CBS in order to create change. This has been going on in Canada for 30 years and it is almost uncanny how discriminating the policy continues to be,” said Joshua Ferguson, director of SAQD " which was founded at Western.

Ferguson explained SAQD has not formed any conclusions from the consultation on Monday.

“The permanent deferral has now come into violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is now a human rights issue,” Ferguson said.

“The MSM policy is only in place to appease the public’s perception of the donation of blood,” he explained.

“A research agenda has been set up and we are looking for external researchers [on the policy]. We need research from a social aspect, because we want to look at behaviours rather than groups,” Tessier said.

According to Tessier, the research will likely be conducted through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Approximately $3 million for partnership grants has been set aside and portions of this will be allotted by the CBS to researchers as necessary.

Besides SAQD, there are other outlets to discuss this ongoing issue at Western.

“UWO Equity and Human Rights Services administrates the university’s policies on non-discrimination,” said the office’s director, Larissa Bartlett.

“We are happy to meet with anyone who is concerned. I have seen an increased discussion of the MSM policy in the media. Our office does not decide if something is discriminatory or not, we just give advice and mediate concerns between individuals here on campus.”

Chelsea Cameron, co-ordinator of PrideWestern, said Pride is aligning itself with SAQD on this issue.

“It is an option that PrideWestern might advocate for [Western] to undertake research for CBS. If Western came forth as a university and committed to that research, it would be something incredible,” Cameron said.

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