Rebecca Millette

News

Canadian Blood Services seeks end to gay donor ban

Rebecca Millette

OTTAWA, January 27, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A spokesperson for the Canadian Blood Services (CBS), the federal blood donor agency, told the Toronto Star yesterday that the lifetime ban on homosexual men donating blood is outdated and needs to be loosened.

The ban was put in place in 1985 after the Canadian Red Cross, in charge of the blood supply at the time, failed to properly screen donors. The result was that thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C from contaminated blood.

The Public Health Agency of Canada reported in 2008 that homosexual men as a group had by far the highest rate of new HIV infections, 44%, and that 51% of people with HIV in the country were homosexual men.

“A lifetime ban extending by one year every year is just not sustainable,” Lorna Tessier, director of public relations at Canadian Blood Services, told the Star.

Tessier said that CBS is committed to working actively to shorten the current ban and find a more “appropriate restriction” to homosexual men donating blood after having sex with another man (‘MSM’).

CBS reportedly plans to conduct research with a $500,000 grant administered by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and to approach Health Canada for permission to loosen the ban.

“There have been lots of changes in the environment, lots of changes in testing (and) lots of changes on the international front,” said Tessier.  “We are committed. There is definitely no doubt about that.”

However, all challenges to the ban have been thus far rejected.  The ban made national news last spring and summer in the court case between homosexual Kyle Freeman and CBS. 

CBS had previously sued Freeman for lying about his homosexual conduct in a pre-screening process and giving blood despite the lifetime ban.  Freeman launched a counter-suit against CBS saying the ban on ‘MSM’ giving blood discriminates against homosexuals and he has a right to give blood under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In September 2010 an Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision upheld the ban in the case of Freeman, saying giving blood is not a constitutional right.  “It is based on health and safety considerations; namely, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne, sexually transmitted pathogens in the [men who have sex with men] populations, and the corresponding risk this creates for the safety of the blood supply system,” the judge ruled.

The court also noted that the Charter of Rights does not apply to the blood agency’s policies, because it is not a government entity.

Following the case, CBS chief executive officer Dr. Graham Sher praised the decision.  “It is important to understand, and as the judge affirmed, our donor selection policies have always been about protecting the safety of blood recipients, and the [‘MSM’] policy is no exception.”

Gwen Landolt, vice-president and spokesperson for Canada’s REAL Women, told LifeSiteNews.com that CBS is “spinning the wheel for no reason.”  “There has been no proof that people will be safe,” she said.

“It is going to cause a lot of confusion and a lot of problems with the public. Certainly it will undermine the credibility of the blood services.  Who wants to give blood and who wants to take it when you’re so uncertain of the safety?”

Today the Canadian Hemophilia Society (CHS) issued a news release that expressed concern about the direction CBS was taking.  CHS said that while they found that “blood, blood products and their alternatives are very safe and in sufficient supply,” CBS has taken a “giant step backwards” in accountability over the past year.

CBS by-laws, CHS reported, state CBS boards must have at least two positions filled by persons with “relevant knowledge or experience with organizations representing persons consuming blood and blood products.”  In the past, these positions have been held by persons with “very close links to recipient organizations and extensive knowledge of safety and supply issues.” 

However, the 2009 and 2010 Board renewal processes saw public directors named who have “no apparent links to recipient organizations and little knowledge of key issues from a recipient perspective,” according to CHS.

The organization said that the 2010 decision upholding the ban on ‘MSM’ blood donors “was welcomed by recipient organizations,” and that as a result of that decision, “decisions on screening procedures will continue to be made on the basis of the latest science and epidemiology.”

Xtra, Canada’s Gay and Lesbian News, reported today that CBS is now “backtracking” on the Toronto Star’s report.

Media coverage saying CBS wants to lift its homosexual blood donor deferral is not news, blood bank spokesperson Ron Vezina told Xtra.

“There is no change. It’s exactly what we said during the Freeman trial. We’re continuing down the same path. When the judge said a 33-year ban is unsustainable, we couldn’t agree more. But we need evidence to what we should change it to. Until we have an alternative, we’re stuck with it,” said Vezina.

LifeSiteNews.com did not hear back from the Canadian Blood Service before press time.

To contact the Canadian blood collection agency with your concern:

Canadian Blood Services
1800 Alta Vista Drive,
Ottawa, Ontario, K1G 4J5
Phone: (613) 739-2300
Fax: (613) 731-1411
Email: feedback@blood.ca

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