Canadian Blood Services Under Fire For Controversial Blood Screening Policy


MSM Controversy 

A controversial rule regarding blood donation eligibility since the 1980’s has been the rule making MSM (men who have sex with men) illegible to donate. Before these measures were implemented many patients received blood contaminated by AIDS, which led to these patients contracting the STD without knowledge or control. One source states that in 2016, “51.8% of people with HIV in Canada are gbMSM (gay and bisexual MSM)” (CATIE). A more recent article stated that “in 2017, the gbMSM exposure category continued to account for the greatest proportion of reported HIV cases among adult males” (Government of Canada).

 Originally starting in the late 1970’s, MSM were not allowed to donate blood under ANY conditions. While our world becomes more modern and accepting, so does this policy. Health Canada has re-evaluated this policy and now has allowed MSM to donate under certain conditions and are constantly shortening the deferral period. What this deferral period means is that MSM must remain abstinent for a specific amount of time leading up to making their blood donation. As science has improved, so has the deferral period, going from five years (2013) to one year (2016) to three months in 2019 (Canadian Blood Services). 

As a consequence of introducing this deferral period, Health Canada faced backlash over whether or not the specific criteria is discriminatory as this deferral period applied solely to MSM. To conclude the debate over discrimination, the Ontario Superior Court ruled in 2010 that the deferral criteria for MSM is not considered discriminatory since it is based on health and safety precautions and scientific data (Canadian Blood Services). 

Health Canada and the Canadian Blood Services have hoped that their research grant program could lead to even more change as they collect more data to suggest that MSM could eventually have an even shorter deferral period. Their chief scientist explained their current goal is to “get away from a time based deferral” and create a “behavioural based method of determining eligibility” (Dana Devine) rather than the vague questionnaire they currently use. With the data they have collected so far, they are confident that men in monogamous relationships could donate safely and therefore that specific population is their top priority. They aspire to “identify the safe subset of sexually active gay men” in order to move forward without “introducing any risk” (Dana Devine). This data is ever so important because the Canadian Blood Services does not have authority to change policies without the changes first being accepted by Health Canada. Health Canada must also consider the perspective and concerns of the donation recipients. Dr. Dana Devine explained that patients are always hesitant when any policy is adapted which means there must be very strong evidence to prove that the adaptation is safe and worthwhile.


How to Donate

While the grad council of KSS acknowledges this controversy and strongly believe in the importance of inclusivity, they have decided to continue the annual blood drive since it is a tradition that helps save lives. The chairs of the Blood Drive Committee have determined that it is important for the school to be educated on the science behind the MSM deferral period and conditions in order to ensure we as a school are not overlooking this topic and are upholding our reputation of being inclusive and supportive of everyone in our community. The committee chairs “hope KSS will come together to help our community and save lives” (Ainsley Macdonald, Calta Rigby, Avery Chalmers) by promoting blood donations and making donating more accessible to students. However, an important thing to note is in order to donate you must be 17 years of age or older. 

Since most students already have Instagram, the committee chairs for the blood drive have decided to use that platform as their safe and efficient method to sign up, all you have to do is send a direct message to @kssblooddrive2021 and they will set up an appointment for you on one of the chosen donations days of November 24th, 25th and 26th. There will also be two additional blood drives later in the year, these dates are yet to be determined. You can also send an email to [email protected] to book an appointment or to answer any questions you may have.