An Ontario court has ruled that Kyle Freeman, a gay man who was sued by Canadian Blood Services for lying on his blood donation questionnaire, was negligent and does not have the right to donate blood. Freeman indicated on his form, untruthfully, that he had not had sex with other men because answering honestly would have deferred him as a donor for life. CBS has a long-standing policy on permanently banning blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man—even once—since 1979.
I’ve been a longtime critic of this policy, but have always respected the letter of it, even if it is deeply flawed. Canadian Blood Services does, indeed, have the right to refuse donations from whomever they choose. No individual, straight or gay, has to have their blood donations accepted by CBS. In this sense, the Kyle Freeman case was an unfortunate way for this issue to have reached the courts; his claim was based on a right that doesn’t really exist. That said, CBS must stop defending its policy as it stands.
My beef with the policy isn’t that I believe I have some inalienable right to donate blood, it’s that the policy focuses on the wrong traits, ignoring the real risks in demographics and instead overtly spreading the myth that gay men are such an inherent danger that having sex with one—even once, since 1979—threatens the quality of Canada’s blood supply.
The flaw is easy to illustrate. Canada’s fastest growing HIV demographic is young, heterosexual women, who already make up 25% of all HIV infections in the country. Yet they aren’t deferred from donating blood. Nor should they be. Why assume, after all, that everyone in the YHW community is a risk when most aren’t? Yet this is precisely the logic used behind CBS’s gay blood ban.
CBS’s policy has got to be replaced by one that emphasizes unprotected sex and the number of sexual partners of a donor, regardless of their gender or the genders of the people they have sex with. Monogamous gay men and those that practice safe sex with limited partners are not a risk to the blood supply, something the American Red Cross has repeatedly noted. CBS already screens every donor with more than acceptable accuracy. That they continue to stand by a policy that focuses on sexual orientation instead of risky sexual practices reinforces the stereotype of the promiscuous gay male and, worse, lends a reputation behind that stereotype that harms the entire gay community.
I have no idea what consequences Ontario’s ruling will have on the movement to adopt a more effective screening questionnaire, but it certainly hasn’t given CBS the kick it needs to reflect on its own policy and to listen to the doctors and medical organisations that oppose it.