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.