UK’s blood donation policy a win for gay rights

The United Kingdom’s Department of Health has determined “that permanently excluding gay men from donating blood is unmerited and not based on any scientifically proven increase in risk to the blood supply.”

It may have taken 30 years, but I commend the United Kingdom (UK) for finally lifting the ban on gay men donating blood. It is encouraging to see the UK and other countries continue to move forward; Canada should be empowered to engage in a similar review of our national blood donation policies.

Originally adopted during the AIDS scare in the 1980s, many countries banned gay blood donation. In recent years, though, countries such as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden have all repealed bans on gay blood donation, recognizing the ineffectiveness of a broad, overarching ban. As of a week ago, the UK joined this list.

There are, however, some key restrictions that remain in place. In this case, gay men in the UK must be abstinent for 12 months.

By failing to eliminate all restrictions, the UK’s policy shift shows progress but it also shows that we have yet to move past the era of outright homophobia. While the 12-month ban is a vast improvement, there are reasons to eliminate all restrictions on gay blood donation and the restrictions that the UK has kept in place reinforce a stereotype that gay men are overly promiscuous.

Unfortunately, the UK’s new laws do not account for individual sexual behavior, but like the previous restrictions, applies to the entire community of gay men without differentiating between individual actions. The restrictions for gay men are now the same as those who have had unprotected sex with prostitutes and IV drug users.

This just simply doesn’t cut it. There are committed gay couples in monogamous relationships who have been with each other for years. Those individuals pose less risk to the population than heterosexual individuals who have had multiple partners in the same 12-month period. Why does Britain (and Canada as well) continue to discriminate on this basis?

The current system of blood testing allows most citizens to donate blood. Every donation undergoes thorough testing before it is used. While prior testing methods were not as effective, the current method of testing is almost fail-proof.

According to medical journal articles, the most recent tests for HIV have an accuracy rate of 99.97 percent, as accurate as almost all other medical tests.

As such, it makes sense to eliminate these restrictions completely.

As we continue to see the UK moves forward, Canada continues to hold onto old, outdated laws. Why is it that the ban on blood donation has yet to be struck down? The Canadian Charter should be enforced on this matter, as it is a clear case of discrimination — an issue that should be challenged under section 15, equality rights. That being said, I won’t expect the Harper government to lift a finger to support the gay community, since it has been reluctant to pursue any kind of pro-gay legislation in its tenure.

While this issue was brought before the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario last year, this issue should be brought before the Supreme Court of Canada, as this is a federal issue and deserves to be heard in the highest court.

When I first heard that the UK was repealing bans on gay blood donation, I saw this as an enormous leap forward, both for the government as well as gay men. Yet, the truth is that Britain has fallen short. The current laws allow gay men to donate blood, but only those who are abstinent. This is a step in the right direction but still miles from where the policy should be.

The issue of blood donation is at the root of a much larger, overarching issue.
Governments and citizens alike remain biased towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) community.

While it may take time for the complete acceptance of LGBTQ into society, it is the responsibility of governments to take the initiative and pass legislation to accommodate this community and put an end to discrimination against sexual minorities.

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