EDMONTON - A change to its current lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with other men is imminent, says the Canadian Blood Services.
“It will definitely be before the end of the calendar year,” spokesman Ron Vezina says from Ottawa of his organization’s submission to Health Canada to amend the ban.
Vezina says the organization now believes it has enough evidence and science to support a change from a permanent prohibition to a deferral that is no fewer than five years and no longer than 10. If accepted, it could be put into place by as early as next spring.
The current policy was instituted in the 1980s to prevent the risk of HIV contamination, but was considered by many to be discriminatory.
HIV Edmonton welcomes the move toward more balanced policies, saying advances in science and testing technology allow for HIV to be screened.
“This ban is discriminatory toward men who have sex with men, but it also continues to mislead the public into thinking that that’s the only transmission of HIV,” says spokeswoman Laura Keegan.
Chris Brooks, meanwhile, doesn’t think the proposed change goes far enough. Openly gay and comfortable with his sexuality, Brooks says he wants to see the ban lifted altogether, as it has been in countries such as Britain, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
“What difference is it going to make for me whether it’s five years or 10 years?” he says.
Brooks, 23, said he was considered the “perfect” candidate when he went to donate blood two years ago for the first time, unaware of the restrictive policies.
“That was the word they kept using,” he says. “My blood iron was perfect. My blood pressure was perfect. I had the perfect veins.”
All that changed when he answered “yes” to the question about whether he’d had sex with a man. That’s when he was told his name would be put on a “list” and that he would not be able to donate blood at any point in the future.
“She said if I wanted, I could donate my time instead. I told her I came (to the clinic) because I don’t have the time to donate, and that I wanted to donate blood.”
Vezina says while he understands Brooks’s frustration, the organization’s first priority must be to manage the safety of the country’s blood system.
“We have to remember that the recipients who are infused with blood products bear 100 per cent of the risk,” says Vezina. “The caveat here (to the policy change) is that it’s a stepped approach. Given the history of the blood system, we have to make sure that whatever we’re doing is prudent, and not being done exclusively for the sake of political correctness.”