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Canadian Blood Services Removes Blood Ban from Gay and Bisexual Men

Canadian Blood Services
Canada may soon repeal its discriminatory blood ban on gay and bisexual men who want to donate blood

Mentions of gendered language and homophobia. 

Recently, it has been announced that Canadian health officials have removed the ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. This old rule for donating blood has long been criticized for its homophobia.

What Was the Canadian Blood Services Old Rule?

The old rule would not accept donations from men who have had sex with other men three months after giving blood. According to Health Canada, removing the ban is “a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system.”

Last year, Canadian Blood Services requested to remove the rule from Health Canada. The rule was recently approved, so the policy change is going into effect.

What Happens Now?

When September 30th comes around, prospective donors will no longer be asked about their sexual orientation when screened for giving blood. Instead, they will ask whether or not the person has been engaging in any high-risk sexual behaviors.

What Is the History Behind the Canadian Blood Services Ban?

Canada’s ban was initiated in 1992 to prevent HIV from going into the blood supply. It followed the 1980s public health scandal where 2,000 people were infected with HIV and 60,000 people with Hepatitis C due to tainted blood donations.

At first, the donation ban would be for life, but they eased off in 2013 when men who had sex with men were permitted to donate if they were abstinent for five years. Then, it turned into the most recent three-month period.  

What Has Been the Hold-up on Removing the Ban?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party said they would end the donation ban during the 2015 federal election campaign. However, they were criticized for not being able to do so. 

In a recent news conference, Trudeau said the change was long overdue and that the previous rule was “discriminatory and wrong.” 

Many other countries also had these types of donation bans during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. According to experts, the bans had little impact, especially since blood is now systematically screened in advance for viruses like HIV and Hepatitis B and C.

The UK also lifted its three-month ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men last year, including France, Greece, Israel, Hungary, Denmark, and Brazil.

Since there was a blood shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic, the United States reduced the celibacy requirement for gay and bisexual men from one year to three months in 2020.

Read more: Canada Protects LGBTQ+ Youth from Conversion Therapy.

What Does This Mean for Safety and Inclusion?

In December 2021, Canadian Blood Services submitted a recommendation to Health Canada about a new method of screening donors. This method focuses on higher-risk sexual behavior for all donors, despite their gender or sexual orientation. By making this significant change, they can continue to hold themselves to a high safety standard for anyone donating blood. 

Canadian Blood Services also strives to be inclusive and welcoming to all donors with as few restrictions as possible. This proposed criteria will ask all donors about anal sex in the context of partners. As a result, they can identify anyone who may have a transfusion-transmissible infection, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The safety of their blood supply is of significant importance for Canadian Blood Services. Compiling evidence from the MSM Research Program, international data, and Canada-specific risk modeling, they have ensured that this change will not compromise the safety or adequacy of the donor blood supply. In addition, the risk of HIV being introduced into the blood system is very low. Also, recent evidence proves that the proposed change will not increase any risk. This data has been reviewed and observed by external scientific committees, and they support the conclusion made by Canadian Blood Services. 

Is Canadian Blood Services in Support of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

The commitment from Canadian Blood Services is to build and support “a national transfusion and transplantation system that is diverse, equitable and inclusive for all.”

In addition, they take the necessary steps to evolve their practices and policies further, especially when addressing systemic discrimination and racism within the organization. Also, they understand that there needs to be more of a diverse donor and registrant base for the future of human health to meet patients’ complex and evolving needs. Plus, these practices need to involve Canadians from diverse backgrounds. 

Recently, Canadian Blood Services has undergone strategic initiatives to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Here are some of these initiatives:

  • “Establishing several employee resource groups to provide safe spaces for staff who share common identities to build a community and sense of belonging at work 

  • Committing to Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous communities and individuals and undertaking work to create an informed and comprehensive Reconciliation action plan (RAP) to support positive and reciprocal relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. 

  • Undertaking work to make donor registration more inclusive for trans and non-binary donors 

  • Providing cultural and diversity awareness education and training to leaders and employees to help build an institutional culture of inclusive excellence 

  • Implementing more inclusive hiring practices and making the process for career development and advancement for existing employees more transparent and accessible 

  • Working to improve the ethnic diversity of our donor and registrant base so that we can more readily meet rare blood, stem cell and other specific patient needs 

  • Working with partners and external stakeholders to develop community-led strategies that will help us better engage with donors and provide thoughtful and inclusive outreach 

  • Welcoming our first chief diversity officer to advance DEI efforts across our organization” 

In Summary

The time has finally come for this ban to be lifted that is discriminatory against gay and bisexual men. Many countries seem to be following Canada’s lead, and hopefully, more will follow suit. 

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