Canadian Blood Services: Making My Blood Boil


As anyone who’s either been to the hospital or seen an episode of Grey’s Anatomy knows, the need for blood, plasma, and platelets is extensive. Every month, Canada needs around 32 000 blood donors for elective and life-saving procedures- especially now, as more and more hospitals resume surgeries that the pandemic put on hold. Despite that, only 4% of Canadians donate blood. As many Canadians can attest, it’s rare to go a whole day without seeing a or a “Donate and Save a Life” ad; they pop up on my screen at least once an hour. This is why I found it so surprising that less than half of Canada’s population is eligible to donate blood. It makes sense that blood banks are stringent when screening donated blood, but are they too rigid with their rules? Below are 5 of the most relevant reasons that people can’t donate blood and why the science is not there to support these claims 


General Requirements

As a general rule of thumb, all possible donors should feel well and perform daily activities at the time of visit. Males must wait at least 56 days between blood donations, and females must wait 84 days. The intervals can be as little as seven days for plasma and platelet donations. 


1). Height and Weight Restrictions

A vast deterrent, the height and weight requirements affect anyone who measures more petite than the average Canadian. Canadian Blood Services mandate that every single person weigh at least 110 pounds and be over 4’10”. While that sounds somewhat reasonable, there are much more specific requirements for biological females than males. If a woman is 4’10”, she must weigh at least 146 lbs, if they measure 5’2” they should be over 130 lbs. If taller than 5’5” they must be at least 115 pounds. The restrictions are slightly less for men, ensuring that everyone who is 4’10” weighs 120 lbs or more, and anyone taller than 5’0” is over 110 pounds. Although most men can meet these height and weight specifications, it is much more difficult for women- especially with beauty standards being what they are. However, according to research done by Statistics Canada, nearly 15% of women do meet the height and weight requirements set by the blood banks. Of course, smaller people have less blood in their bodies, but why not take less blood from petite people? Why not make the intervals greater, and allow more blood to be donated and more lives to be saved?


2).  LGBTQ+ Men

The most surprising “fact” I learned through the Canadian Blood Services website is that AMAB (assigned male at birth) people that engage in homosexual activity are not allowed to donate blood, plasma, or platelets throughout most of Canada. A blanket rule is that a man who has had sex with another man (MSM) in the last three months is not eligible to donate blood. As Canada’s blood donation websites don’t provide scientific evidence to support their claims and their representatives don’t offer much information, I turned to other sources to find proof. The American Red Cross website recognizes that “blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation,” but that they also must abide by the FDA guidance. The little research out there uses this screening method as a precaution to reduce the risk of HIV. Yes, nearly 1 in 5 MSM have HIV (CDC study, Web MD), but why discriminate against those who do not have this sexually transmitted disease? A significant amount of men identify as gay, bisexual, or engage in sexual acts with other men, so why limit the already selective pool of blood donors even further? In very limited blood donation clinics, like Calgary, Alberta and London, Ontario, MSM can donate platelets only if they are in a steady relationship with one other male. A negative HIV test should be enough, yet companies seem to think abstinence is the only solution.


3). Piercing’s and Tattoos 

Similar to the reasons behind MSM being unable to donate, anyone who has received a tattoo or piercing in the last three months is ineligible to donate- due to the increased risk of infection. The category of tattoos and piercings includes microblading and permanent makeup such as eyebrow tattooing and permanent lip tinting. According to Medical News Today, less than 5% of tattoos and 20% of piercings become infected. But both infections are evident, nearly always manifesting physical symptoms like redness, excess liquid/substance, and visible sensitivity. I agree that waiting after piercings and tattoos could be beneficial, but three months may be excessive, as infections usually present themselves within a few days. Shortening the deferral period to a safe and reasonable amount would open up accessibility to those who are regularly getting tattoos, piercings, and permanent makeup to donate blood.  


4). Medical History 

Possibly the most significant impediment on this list, a medical history can haunt someone months, years, even decades into the future. While having cancer may seem a valid reason not to donate blood, it is stated that the donor must be completely cancer-free for at least five years to be eligible to donate (for more common cancers such as breast or liver). Anyone who has ever had melanoma, leukemia or lymphoma is ineligible to donate for life. Those with epilepsy must be seizure-free for six months and have their medication approved by blood clinic staff at each time of their visit. While some with diabetes may be able to donate, anyone taking insulin is not. Anyone who’s had a tissue or organ transplant must wait at least a year to be considered, but if you’ve ever received a brain covering (dura mater), you are not eligible. Many other conditions/ medical histories require deferral periods, like heart conditions and having received stitches. Lastly, anyone who has ever had sex with someone HIV or Hepatitis B or C positive may not be eligible, even if they do not have those diseases. I understand that many medical conditions have lasting side effects, and the safety of both the donor and the recipient is imperative, but is being so selective an intelligent decision? Is the extreme screen process for past medical conditions too severe and reducing possible donors by too tremendous an amount?


5).  Age

As a 15-year-old girl who meets every other requirement, this age factor makes my blood boil. Every donor must be over the age of 17, while there is no upper age limit. It does make sense to impose an age limit for donating blood, but halfway through teen years doesn’t make sense. 17 is a seemingly random number, and the blood banks don’t even seem to know why they chose it. In an online conversation with a registered nurse from Canadian Blood Services, the nurse answering my questions was very vague with their reasoning. At first, they claimed that 17 was the appropriate age to give consent, then it was that teenagers were too small, and then they stated that “some research findings show that young donors are more susceptible to donation-related complications compared to older donors.” When I asked her about “some research,” the nurse merely dodged the question and gave verbatim answers from their website. So not only can the company itself not provide legitimate solutions about the reasoning behind their rules, but other research proves that 17 is a random number. Many teenagers meet the height and weight requirements before they are 17, so why is 17 the magical number?

All in all, many of the Canadian Blood Clinic’s reasons to not accept blood are valid–it doesn’t make sense to give the blood of a cocaine addict to an immunocompromised 6-year-old. However, the number of discriminatory reasons because of a slight chance of a complication is too high to ignore, and so is the need for blood. Less than 40% of the population is eligible to donate blood, and less than 10% of those people actually donate. If blood clinics found a more inclusive way to screen for “healthy” blood, more people would donate, and there’d be less of a shortage of this life-saving fluid. Companies like Candian Blood Services are desperate for blood, platelets, and plasma to save lives and reduce those who die due to lack of blood available. If their goal really is to provide life-saving products for Canadians who need them, why don’t they maximize their potential of blood and plasma donors? 

By turning away the opportunity to take blood, is CBS taking lives?