[Disclaimer: all opinions stated in this post are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the organization I work for.]
I was all riled up all day today about the news that Canadian Blood Services will this summer relax their restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with other men:
Starting this summer, Canadian Blood Services will accept donations from men who haven’t had sex with another man within the last five years. Before the change, men who’d had sex with another man “even once, since 1977” were turned away. Canadian Blood Services defines “sex” as almost anything, including anal and oral.
In other words, Canadian Blood Services is essentially upholding its ban on gay men giving blood.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a hematologist and don’t pretend to be an expert in these matters, so I’m not going to state definitively that I think a deferral period is completely unnecessary, although I will admit I’m not sold on it. It does seem to be a fairly well accepted practice to have a 12-month deferral period, which would be the same as for a woman who has had sex with a man who has had sex with a man.
But five years? Really, CBS? Good job.
Yes, we know that more than half of HIV/AIDS infections in Canada are among the MSM community. Yes, we know that they account for about 45% of new infections. Yes, I can see that having no deferral period could potentially increase the risk of tainted blood product slipping through the cracks and finding its way into the system.
Have we not come far enough to truly recognize that even if CBS discriminates, HIV/AIDS doesn’t? There’s a reason we don’t call it GRID (or worse, the gay plague) anymore.
CBS has been successfully screening out tainted blood for decades. Their system appears to be working – can they not have figured out by now how to mitigate any additional risk a little better? And would it really be that much more work to ensure proper testing of a gay man’s blood? My hope would be that their process for testing my donated blood is just as strict as what it would be for testing a gay man’s. If, in our office, we can test for HIV in 30 seconds with 97% accuracy, surely Canadian Blood Services has an even better testing system. And if we absolutely need a deferral period, and we know that HIV antibodies are evident in the bloodstream between 3 weeks and 3 months post-infection, is a year not more than enough? Exactly what are they saying is likely to show up in someone’s blood between day 366 and day 1826 that wouldn’t be there on day 365?
More to the point, as much as I take issue with some of the questions asked during the screening process, due to the fact that many, if not most, of them involve at best an educated guess on the part of the prospective donor, blood donation screening should focus way more on behaviour than CBS seems to be saying it does with this announcement. As a single woman, the chances that I’m engaging in risky sexual behaviour are far greater than a man who is in a committed relationship with another man. But no one asks me the date of my last sexual encounter, and they take me at my word when I tell them I’ve never had sex with someone whose sexual history I don’t know (see “educated guess” statement above – how many people can truly answer that with 100% confidence? Let’s face it, 99% of us are answering that question based on what our past sexual partners have told us about their sexual histories, not necessarily on our past partners’ actual sexual histories), and I’ve never been turned down as a donor (with the exception of that one time in high school but that was because strangely my blood started to run back into my arm and that doesn’t count).
I have posted here at least a dozen times about the importance of blood donation. I am a huge advocate for it, I’m unapologetic about hounding people to become donors, and I’m sorry, but I truly think that if you’re eligible to donate and you’re not doing it, you’re lazy – you don’t need it but other people do, so be a hero, get out there, roll up your sleeve and know that you are literally saving lives, or at the very least giving someone another week with their loved one, like more than 100 amazing strangers did for my family over the course of my dad’s illness. They’ll even give you free cookies afterward. And I am all for anything that expands the list of eligible donors.
But this, to my mind, is little more than a false sense of progress.
Simon Johnson wrote this on Women’s Post today:
All I see here is Canadian Blood Services perpetuating a homophobic and discriminatory idea that HIV/AIDS is something that only affects gay men. [...] It pains me to feel like a second class citizen with poisonous blood in a country I am so proud to live in, but it hurts me more to know that I am unable to help those in need with something I have to give.
This is not progress. And it’s not nearly good enough, CBS. For a developed country, it’s downright pathetic and embarrassing. Do better.
( via )