Is compromise the life-blood?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

September 27, 2007 Ed Cartoon

Canadian Blood Services recently announced its decision on the policy of indefinitely deferring any male from donating blood if he has had sex with another male, even once, since 1977.

Donated blood is a precious commodity, as the demand for blood is enormous in Canada. The policy obviously errs on the side of caution â€" the risk of potentially infecting patients with blood-borne diseases like HIV is disastrous.

This is not the Canadian Blood Services’ only discriminatory policy. There are limitations on people who may have been exposed to malaria in foreign countries and people who have undergone needle procedures such as body piercings or tattoos.

However, it is unfortunate it has to discriminate against hundreds of thousands of homosexual Canadians. Times are much different than the 1980s, when ignorance about HIV was rampant. The gay community is cognizant of the dangers of HIV, and in a society where demand for blood is so large, these Canadians will potentially save lives.

It is difficult to argue this discrimination is unreasonable; it is never unreasonable to be cautious with such a grave safety risk. Amid serious tainted-blood scandals in the past, Canadian Blood Services must exercise every caution regarding blood donations.

Also, it is a statistical fact that homosexuals are more likely to be infected with HIV than heterosexuals. There is still a lot of paranoia about this prospect in society, and while a lot of it is based in ignorance, there is surely a basis for heightened caution.

It is fair for people’s rights to be interrupted if an overwhelming societal goal must be reached â€" in this case keeping Canadians in need of blood free from disease.

But perhaps a compromise can be reached. A better alternative than Canadian Blood Services’ pre-donation questionnaire might be turning away anyone who has been with someone with a questionable HIV status, rather than just those who have had male-on-male relations.

Another solution might be taking everyone’s blood, and then according to the questionnaire, “flagging” certain donors’ blood and testing it rigorously, even if it requires freezing for a few months to ensure the testing is thorough. This way, Blood Services is not turning away a crucial commodity and the flagged blood would be kept separate until it is cleared as safe.

Canadian Blood Services should not be criticized for being cautious, but hopefully a compromise can be reached where all Canadians can have a chance to be donors while still being vigilant about safety.

Finding a compromise is worth the extra work in order to end discrimination against homosexuals and to increase the supply of blood that is so important for the seriously ill.

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