Thursday, September 15, 2011

"It's In You To Give"

According to Canadian Blood Services, in ads broadcast over the radio from time to time, urging people to donate blood and help save lives, blood is in us to give.  But, apparently, not in gay men.

I remember when I was a boy growing up in Dawson Creek, my father gave blood on a consistent basis.  In the wee hours one morning, our phone rang.  It was an emergency.  Several people with life-threatening injuries needed to have surgery.  Dawson Creek & District Hospital, several blocks from where we lived at the time, was short of blood.  My father's blood type was O negative, which I understand has components that can be used in all patients, regardless of their blood types (I believe I have O negative blood, too).  Could he come in immediately and make a donation?

In the cold and dark of a northern British Columbia winter, my father changed out of his pyjamas and drove to the hospital through the snow-covered streets.  I don't know if lives were saved that night, as a result of his donation, but my father did what he could do.  He did far more than the majority of people do.  I've never forgotten that morning.  Sometimes, the idea of giving blood creeps me out.  Other times, I think it would be a privilege to donate and know what you've done could save someone's life.      

But it's not a privilege accorded to gay men.  According to an article in The Vancouver Sun titled "Gay men in U.K. allowed to donate blood," appearing in the Friday, September 9, 2011 edition, "Canadian Blood Services bans donation from all men who have had sex with another man since 1977, citing statistics that say these men are at greater risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS [p. B6]."

Someone needs to explain this to me.  I'm well aware of the tainted blood scandal that occurred in Canada in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which the national blood supply was contaminated with Hepatitis C and HIV, to the detriment of many people and resulting in messy legal battles.  But circumstances have changed over the past thirty-five years.  Now, all blood donations are tested before they're given to patients.

So if blood donated by gay men, or by anyone for that matter, was found to be contaminated, couldn't it simply be discarded?  Given the dire need for blood most of the time, wouldn't allowing gay men to donate and discarding the contaminated blood discovered be preferable to not allowing gay men to donate, potentially ending up with a blood shortage, and losing lives as a result?  I don't get it.

I have to wonder if there isn't something else going on here.  I mean, think about it.  I'm gay. I've been in a monogamous, same-sex relationship with the same man for nearly two decades.  I'm one hundred percent certain my blood is not contaminated and could be used to save lives.  Yet I can't donate.  But some heterosexual men, who had sex with God-knows-who, and who could have any or all of the same diseases presumed to afflict only gay men, can donate.  Is this a double standard, or what?  

The Vancouver Sun article goes on to say, "Physicians, student groups and gay rights' activists in Canada have long protested the policy to exclude men who have had sex with men from donating blood, calling it outdated, unfair and offensive [p. B6]."  I couldn't agree more.  Isn't this yet another way to discriminate against gay men?  Doesn't Canadian Blood Services see the inherent risk in ANYONE donating blood, given the diverse sexual activities of countless millions of people.


Update (September 2013):

Recently, Canadian Blood Services made the decision to allow gay men to donate blood–IF they've been celibate for five years.

How is that any different from being in a monogamous relationship for over twenty years?

I don't get it.        


  1. I'm heterosexual and I couldn't agree with you more. This double standard has to end. I wonder how many units of "heterosexual blood" are discarded each year because it's contaminated? We don't hear about that now do we?

  2. Is this the Loretta I think it is? Did we attend school together in Kelowna? Great to hear from you either way. Thank you so much for your support on this point.

    You know, I almost wrote that I think it's entirely possible the general public is happy "gay blood" isn't a part of the national supply. Gay men were prevented from donating way back when homosexuality wasn't as accepted as it is now (although, make no mistake, it's still not totally accepted), and I think, even outside of HIV and AIDS, most people were happy at the idea that gay blood would ever enter their bodies.

    In other words, even the blood from gay men was discriminated against, because, maybe, some people thought if it was transfused into their bodies, they'd be infected, at the very least, with gayness, or whatever they called it, and end up gay themselves. I think this also explains why gay men still can't donate after all these decades--the national supply is free of gay blood; why contaminate it now?

    Maybe I'm wrong. I'd like to think I'm wrong. But, honestly, the way some people think, I'm certain they'd rather die than have the blood from a gay man running through their bodies.

    Again, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I hope to hear from you again.

  3. Hi Rick
    Yes, this is the Loretta you went to school with in Kelowna and I'd rather have a gay man's blood running through my veins than not having a transfusion at all. I have A- blood which is quite rare. Sadly because of a post-operative staph infection I've been told I can't give blood. Up until 10 years ago I gave blood on a regular basis. When you love the human race it's what you do.

    Now, with all the supposed advancements in testing etc. etc. if our country still can't ensure safe blood testing (of hetero or homosexual blood)then really no one's blood should be considered safe.

    It's still the gift of life, it's ours to give and if all the blood is tested then all people, those who wish to give the gift of life, should have that opportunity until such time as their blood tests as unsafe.

    Cheers's good to see you.

  4. Hey, Loretta. Great to hear from you.

    I love your views on the whole blood donating matter. I completely agree with everything you wrote. I'm sure, despite some queasy feelings at the thought of it, I'd be willing to donate, too--if I could. Maybe someday. Who knows?

    Thanks for your interest in my blog. I appreciate your comment and hope to hear from you again.

    All the best.