Health Canada Removes Barriers on Gay Men Donating Blood

Health Canada have removed a decades-long ban on blood donations from gay men, restrictions that have been condemned for being homophobic.

Health Sexual Health Triston Brewer

This article was published on May 3rd, 2022

In a move that Health Canada called “a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system”, the country has declared that as of September 30th, prospective donors will not be questioned about their sexual orientation during the blood screening process. Instead, they will be asked about any higher-risk sexual behaviors they may possibly engage in. The policy has been under review and changed after Canada Blood Services submitted a request in 2021 to remove the rule to Health Canada. The organization, which collects blood and blood product donations throughout most of the country had the request approved on Thursday in a landmark decision. 

The Ban in Canada Has a 30 Year History

First put into place in 1992 in Canada to prevent HIV from entering the national blood supply, the decision immediately came under fire from the LGBTQ+ community, coming after a 1980s public health scandal where more than 2,000 people became infected with HIV and approximately 60,000 more with hepatitis C due to tainted blood donations related to testing failures. 

The Canadians Red Cross had been responsible for Canada’s blood supply; however, as a result of the tainted blood scandal, the agency was removed and Canadian Blood Services established, to reestablish trust in the blood supply in Canada. Part of the new blood supply regulations was the ban on men-who-sleep-with-men from donating blood, as a measure to reduce the risk of HIV and hepatitis entering the blood supply, which resulted in outrage from the gay community.

Initially conceived as a life ban, the police were removed in 2013, when men who had sex with men were allowed to donate if they had abstained from male-on-male sex for at least five years. This was later removed to a current period of only three months. Under Prime Minster Justin Trudeau’s leadership, the Liberal party made a promise to end the donation ban in 2015 during the 2015 federal election campaign and has come under fire for failing to do so. 

Trudeau Acknowledges Mistakes Made in Government

In a press conference on the topic last Thursday, Justin Trudeau noted that change on the ban was long overdue and that the current approach was “discriminatory and wrong”. He also stated that the government has spent $5 million Canadian dollars on research to ensure the safety of blood donors and donation rules. Health Canada called the move a major milestone that is forged on progress in scientific evidence that has developed in recent years. 

There were several countries that adopted similar bands at the height of the AIDS crisis during the 80s as experts, but experts found that the bans were not effective as blood currently is systematically screened in advance of HIV, hepatitis B and C. In the United Kingdom, the three months ban on blood donations ended last year on gay men, with France, Israel, Greece, Denmark, Hungary, and Brazil also lifting their restrictions. In the United States, where a blood shortage occurred due to the COVID pandemic, the celibacy requirement for gay men was reduced from one year to three months in October 2020.

What are your thoughts on the new ban? Is it long overdue, right-on time, or should it have ever been in place? Let HomoCulture know in the comments section below. 

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