Canadian Blood Services moves closer to ending gay blood ban

Advocates from the community say even if Canadian Blood Services' application to Health Canada gets approved, it will take time to gain the trust of gay men to donate blood. Maleeha Sheikh reports on what changes may be coming to the process. 

By Maleeha Sheikh

In a move many have been calling for for years, more gay men may soon be able to donate blood after Canadian Blood Services asked Health Canada to allow changes to its screening policies.

Currently, gay men can only give blood if it has been more than three months since their last sexual contact with another man. But under a new proposal, screening would focus on high-risk behaviour — including having multiple sexual partners — by all donors.

Federal ministers, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have said they want to speed up an end to the gay blood ban.

Advocates say even if the policy is changed, it will take time to correct the decades of what they call unjust treatment.

“Previous policies for gay men with regards to blood donation were discriminatory at best and really flawed,” says Dane Griffiths, the director of Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance. He’s hopeful members of his community will soon be able to donate blood without being discriminated against.

“One of the real issues with the previous policy was that it was a blanket approach to all gay and bisexual men that was really rooted in a lot of stigmatizing beliefs about our community and about the kind of sex we have.”

Currently, men volunteering to give blood are asked if they have had sex with a man in the last three months. If they have, they are prohibited from giving blood. But a straight man can, no matter how many female partners he has been with or what sexual acts he’s engaged in with them over the same time frame.

“The submission is premised on the knowledge that sexual behaviour – not sexual orientation – determines the risk of sexual transmission of blood-borne pathogens,” Dr. Isra Levy, Vice-President of Medical Affairs and Innovation at Canadian Blood Services said during a board meeting earlier this month.


The proposed questions would ask all donors if they have had new or multiple recent partners. If they answer yes, they would be asked if they’ve had anal sex with any of those partners. Currently in the UK, gay and bisexual men can donate blood. But anyone who has recently had anal sex with a new partner, or multiple partners, must wait three months before donating.

Canadian Blood Services says it’s done extensive research and risk modelling.

“They support our conclusions that blood safety will not be compromised by our proposed approach,” said Dr. Levy.

Griffiths says engaging new donors from the community may take time due to the damage that has already been done.

“Certainly this will open up opportunities for folks who have wanted to donate blood for many years to be able to do that,” he says. “I think it will be incumbent on Canada Blood Services to repair their relationship with the queer community to rebuild trust.”

Canada Blood Services tells CityNews it expects its application to be reviewed by Health Canada within 90 days. If approved, they will implement changes as quickly and safely as possible.

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