Carleton students right on blood ban

Canadian Blood Services needs to change its policies


Blood ban opponents in the U.K. (mattbuck4950/Flickr)

Students at Carleton University voted this week to continue refusing to work with Canadian Blood Services because of the organization’s policies, which prevent most gay men from donating.

I, for one, applaud the students’ decision.

Of course, Blood Services must take all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of the blood supply, but all reasonable precautions does not mean every theoretical precaution. Blood is tested before it is used, and Blood Services could reasonably ask questions about recent high-risk behaviour.

To ban all men who have had sex with other men, even once since 1978, is going too far. It excludes numerous healthy donors, generates ill will among citizens generally, and, worst of all, promotes the false and damaging stereotype that being gay is equivalent to being diseased and vice versa.

Admittedly, some kinds of gay sex constitute a higher-risk activity when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases. But it’s not the only high risk activity. If risk is the issue, why not ban every one who has ever had sex without a condom? Or everyone who has ever had sex, for that matter?

Why not? Because then there wouldn’t be enough donors. In the case of gay men, however, we are dealing with a small fraction of the population, and Blood Services knows it can do without them. But discrimination against a small group is still discrimination. In fact, it’s the most common kind.

Other advanced countries—South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan—have more reasonable policies on blood donations from gay men and have not had a massive outbreak of STDs.

It’s time for Blood Services to change their policies. Attempts to convince the organization have not worked. What will work is a widespread boycott. Straight people across the country need to say, if you want my blood, you have to accept the blood of my healthy gay friends.

And universities are a good place to start.

Todd Pettigrew teaches English at Cape Breton University. Follow him: @ToddPettgirew


Carleton students right on blood ban

  1. Let’s ignore the fact that this story has been done to death. The same arguments for the anti-deferral side continue to repeat themselves. And, while continuing to say how unfair the policy is, no one has presented any hard data arguing otherwise. In fact, the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to support men who have sex with men are the highest risk group in Canada.

    Instead, let’s focus on the writer’s closing arguement: “What will work is a widespread boycott. Straight people across the country need to say, if you want my blood, you have to accept the blood of my healthy gay friends.”

    That is quite possibly the most narrow-minded and dangerous statement one can make.

    You can disagree with a policy, a law, or a regulation. Everyone is free to boycott, protest, and write letters to their MPs expressing their disgust. But to encourage people NOT to voluntarily donate a gift that saves lives every single day? Not only are you continuing to perpetuate indifference to this issue, you are willing to put people’s lives at risk for the sake of political correctness.

    When it comes down to safety when another human’s life is at stake, I believe any and all precautions, no matter how much one disagrees with them, will always be the right ones.

  2. I wonder how Todd Pettigrew would feel if his mother, his child or another friend or family member was in surgery, had been in a car accident, or was going through cancer treatment and there was no blood products available because of a widespread boycott? As opposed to Mr. Pettigrew’s suggestion of a boycott, the motion at Carleton University was balanced, calling on the student association to continue trying to overturn the current policy, but it also said “officially opposing something that saves lives is inhumane”. Let individuals democratically decide for themselves, using their donations as their vote. In banning clinics, you are removing the element of choice and imposing one group’s will over another. There are creative ways to get your point across without interfering with saving lives. Case in point, the PRIDE committe of Memorial University sponsored a blood donor clinic a couple of years ago, asking friends and family to donate in the place of people who were ineligible. They also took the opporutnity to educate people about the MSM policy and their desire for change. Had Mr. Pettigrew done his homework, he also would have determined that in Sept. 2011, Canadian Blood Services committed to changing its MSM policy from its current lifetime exclusion to a time-bound deferral. Scientific data and consultations with patient groups and LGBTTQ representatives will serve to inform a policy request change to our regulator later this year. There is no “easy button” in blood safety. Decisions are difficult, but they are backed by science, epidemiology and complex risk algorithms. Many well intentioned individuals are not able to give blood, either to minize risk to themselves or to potential recipients. But no matter who needs blood in Canada – regardless of age, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. – they will get the safest, most secure product we can provide them. Period. *Disclosure: I work for Canadian Blood Services.

    • Well said.

      My husband can’t donate because he spent 6 months in the UK during the whole BSE affair. Despite the fact that he didn’t eat beef while he was there, he still can’t donate blood. We accept that CBS isn’t intentionally discriminating against him, but they are doing their best to protect the blood supply. After all, we do recall the whole tainted blood scandal, and how many lives that affected, unfortunately.

      I donate when I can. There have been times in the past when I couldn’t, for various reasons, but when I’m able to I make the effort.

  3. While I agree that the Blood Services’ policy that restricts MSM blood donation is archaic, that doesn’t mean we should cease and desist blood donating on our campus entirely, and it doesn’t mean our student government should just ignore the fact that we could be contributing so much by getting as many students on campus to donate blood as possible. When someone who advocates for homosexual rights refuses a blood transfusion for themselves (if they were one of the thousands of unlucky individuals who need blood due to unplanned circumstances each day) because the policy is homophobic, and chooses to die over having their lives saved by an organisation that happens to have an outdated policy, maybe then I’ll actually take the arguments that are and have been preventing us from raising as much awareness as we can seriously…until then arguments against the CBS are completely null and void. OH P.S……I am not homophobic in the least.

  4. Hi Macleans,

    Can I write an opinions piece to counteract the one that’s written above? It’s only fair to publish both sides of the story. Besides, it’s completely unacceptable to take anger through boycott out on patients, which is something even CUSA council agreed upon.

    Gina gina.parker@cusaonline.com, or ginaparker8@me.com

  5. Thankfully, all Canadians are free to decide whether or not they wish to give blood. Their reasons for abstaining vary, from the deeply personal to the trivial. If somebody chooses not to give blood because needles freak them out, we can hardly accuse them of deliberately endangering the lives of other Canadians; instead, we say it is their choice, and decide for ourselves if we will choose differently.

    Why would a political boycott be any different?

  6. Todd seems to need a reason to vent some anger. Is it really about the blood issue or something else? Holding one’s breath until turning blue so everyone suffers doesn’t help the scientific world any.

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