Canada Mulls Ending Gay Blood Ban
Hot on the heels of the United Kingdom, which ended their gay blood donor ban in favour of a one year deferral last week, Canadian Blood Services is now mulling a similar change.
Canada’s permanent deferral on blood donations from men who have had sex with another man—even once—has never been scientifically sound; on top of that, the ban has been increasingly difficult to defend as more and more countries shed the practice. CBS has gone through several revisitations of the issue, but they always ended up being more theatrics than science, opting for the status quo. Somehow, though, I think this time will be different. Heck, even Russia, which is pretty darn anti-gay, has ended their lifetime ban on gay donors.
The identically cautious adoption of a one-year deferral is based on the rationale that particularly dangerous contaminants, such as HIV and hepatitis B, are undetectable for a period of time. Since all blood donations are tested for blood-borne contaminants, a period of a few months is really all that’s necessary, but donor clinics want to be especially vigilant, so a 12 month buffer makes sense.
And yet, I still find this change problematic.
As I’ve pointed out many times before, the problem isn’t the length of the ban (although forever was clearly a bit excessive), but rather the question that triggers it. This question essentially singles out sexual orientation instead of sexual behavior, treating many safe donors as risky, and many risky donors as safe. Monogamous gay couples, for example, are still effectively banned by the questionnaire, while a straight man that has unprotected sex with hundreds of partners is treated like an ideal donor, despite being a far greater risk.
This problem shouldn’t be difficult to resolve. The question could be replaced with something along the lines of: “Have you had more than one sexual partner in the last year?” followed by “Has your sexual partner had more than one sexual partner in the last year?” Answering yes to either could trigger the deferral without singling out sexual orientation and would likely even improve the quality of the blood supply by catching risky straight donors in addition to gay ones.
But, hey, these things are slow, so I’ll take ending the ban as a baby step in the right direction. Kinda.
- Blood-donation ban for gay men gets 2nd look [CBC News]