ST. JOHN’S (CUP)—When donating blood in Canada, you are required to complete a confidential questionnaire before each donation. This starts off simple enough, asking, “Are you feeling well today?” From there it becomes more intrusive, asking about medical background, travel patterns, and drug usage—legal or otherwise.
And then, for male donors, comes a question that the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) has a major issue with: “Have you had sex with a man, even one time since 1977?”
If the answer is yes, then there will be no more questions and you will instead be politely asked to leave. This is because the current policy of the two groups responsible for blood collection in Canada—Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec—is a lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with a man (MSM).
One of CFS’s longest lasting campaigns, entitled “End the Ban,” hopes to repeal this policy, on the basis that it is founded on outdated science and stereotypes of the LGBT demographic. With no regard given to the usage of protection or a male’s knowledge of his sexual partner’s background being accounted for, CFS feels that the MSM policy, as mandated by the regulating organization Health Canada, is a clear case of discrimination.
While not strictly a student’s issue, the Newfoundland and Labrador Chairperson of CFS, Michael Walsh, feels that it is an issue with major implications for the student population.
“Not only are a number of our members identified by Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec as men who have sex with men, but also a large percentage of blood donation in this country comes from blood drives on our campuses,” Walsh says. “So it’s an issue that impacts individual members, and also…occurs on our campuses.”
To that end, CFS has played an active role on distributing information on the issue at a variety of events and occasions, such as World Blood Donor Day and Pride Day.
Students are encouraged to become involved with local on-campus initiatives through the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union (MUNSU), as well as utilizing the campaign website to send their thoughts to the federal Minister of Health.
While some students who are eligible donors may feel inclined to boycott donating blood in solidarity with the cause, Walsh emphasizes that that is not something supported by the campaign. “That’s certainly not the goal of the campaign. It’s incredibly important that we have an adequate, safe supply of blood donation in our country,” Walsh says. “These negative attitudes that exist towards Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec are an unfortunate product of this discriminatory ban.”
Although Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec have been essentially unchanging in their policy on MSM since it was first introduced in 1988, this may soon change. Both organizations submitted a proposal to Health Canada in Dec. 2012 to change the policy from a lifetime deferral to a five year one.
Health Canada has at least three months to make a decision, and they can choose to extend the decision-making period. If approved, then the new policy could be in place as early as summer 2013. According to Marc Plante, Communications Specialist for Canadian Blood Services’ Head Office, this will then “open the door slightly for those men who either experimented, were abused, or decided to be celibate.”
Walsh feels that this is still discriminatory and will not alter the trajectory of the campaign.
“The force and effect of a five year ban is essentially the same as a lifetime deferral for most individuals,” Walsh says. “A five year deferral is still based on an individual’s status, and not their behaviours.”
Instead, the campaign praises the policy existing in a number of countries such as France, Spain, and Italy, where—in addition to other things—the screening process calculates risk based on a person’s sexual behaviour, regardless of the gender of the persons involved.