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Canadian Blood Services to end gay ‘blood ban,’ bring in behaviour-based screening

An end to the ban on gay men donating blood has been approved by Health Canada and could be brought in by September.
A blood donor clinic pictured at a shopping mall in Calgary, Alta., Friday, March 27, 2020. Canadian Blood Services says Health Canada has approved its request to end the ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

An end to the ban on gay men donating blood has been approved by Health Canada and could be brought in by September.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said ending the discriminatory ban was “good news for all Canadians” but had taken too long.

Speaking at a news conference in Ottawa, Trudeau said the ban should have ended 10 to 15 years ago, but research proving it would not affect the safety of the blood supply had not been done by previous governments.

He said his government invested $5 million dollars in research into the safety aspects of changing the blood donation rules and multiple scientific reports showed “our blood supply will continue to be safe.”

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said the announcement was a “magnificent day” and another step forward for LGBTQ rights.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, who disclosed his first partner had died of AIDS 30 years ago, said the change in donation rules now meant that “my blood is as good as anyone’s blood in this room” and was a step forward in human rights and “ending stigma.”

Health Canada Thursday approved the request by Canadian Blood Services to end the policy that restricts men who have sex with men from donating blood for three months.

The blood service had asked Health Canada to allow it to scrap questions about gender or sexuality, basing screening on higher-risk sexual behaviour such as anal sex instead.

Starting no later than Sept. 30, potential donors will be asked instead if they have had new or multiple sexual partners in the last three months, no matter their gender or sexual orientation.

If any potential donor replies yes, they would then be asked whether they have had anal sex with any of those partners and if they have, they would need to wait three months since that activity before donating blood.

The agency says asking about sexual behaviour, rather than sexual orientation, will allow it to more reliably assess the risk of infections such as HIV that can be transmitted through infusions.

It also says the shift comes after “countless hours” of work by LGBTQ and other groups, who have long advocated for a change in policy.

Catherine Lewis, a spokeswoman for Canadian Blood Services, said: “This criteria change is science-informed and will enable us to be more inclusive about who can donate while, as always, ensuring safe, adequate blood and plasma supplies for patients in Canada.”

“This change is a significant step, but we know we still have considerable work to do to build trust and repair relationships with LGBTQ communities, and we commit to doing so.”

The NDP critic and deputy critic for LGBTQ rights, Randall Garrison and Blake Desjarlais, said in a joint statement, that “finally allowing men who have sex with men to donate blood is a long-overdue victory for men who have sex with men, community members and allies who have worked tirelessly for years to push the government to act.”

—Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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