/MP pens letter of support to end blood donor policy 

MP pens letter of support to end blood donor policy 

By Darren Lum

Blood might be within you to give, but the slogan of Canadian Blood Services doesn’t apply equally to everyone.
Despite blood shortages in Canada (even more so during the pandemic), Minden Pride chairperson David Rankin said Canadian Blood Services and
Héma-Québec are continuing to deny thousands of citizens the chance to
give blood based on decisions made dating back to the Red Cross tainted
blood scandal in the 1980s. Currently, men who have had sex with men or trans-women in the last three months are not permitted to give blood.  “I
do understand maybe why they may be cautious given the [tainted blood
scandal] tragedy that happened with viruses getting into the blood supply and then being donated to vulnerable people. It’s a huge issue, but we also have to take a look at what is essentially systemic homophobia, as opposed to scientific [basis]. So they have to adjust that and do that very rapidly in my opinion and it seems more of a perception than actual scientifically evidenced reason,” he said. He questioned how a man in a monogamous relationship with another man was any different from a man in a heterosexual relationship when it comes to donating blood.
Rankin wrote a letter to MP Jamie Schmale, asking for his support in ending the three-month restriction. Schmale responded with a letter dated July 6.
An excerpt from the letter, reads, “I agree with you that this is a non-partisan issue and [ask] that no one should have to deny who they are in order to donate blood to save lives. I am in favour of treating homosexual blood donors on the same level as heterosexual blood donors. If medical experts agree, then I see no reason to continue the ban and would encourage the government to make good on their now four year promise to end the blood ban.”
From 1992 to 2013 there was a lifetime ban against donations from homosexual men. By 2013, the Red Cross was replaced by CBS and Héma-Québec and the lifetime ban was changed to five years.  In 2015, the Liberals ran on an election campaign to end what they characterized as the
discriminatory ban on blood donations and in 2019 the rule was changed
to three months. Rankin said he appreciated the support expressed by
Schmale in the letter, which was posted to the Minden Pride social media
This isn’t the first time Schmale has acted on a request by the Minden Pride organization.  “He supported us by drafting a letter and sending it off to the appropriate minister and asking for inclusion of funds to support LGBTQ festivals basically. We have fortunately been [a] recipient of some of that money and I appreciated Jamie for supporting us on that. So we’re quite
pleased,” Rankin said.  Minden Pride, a volunteer-driven, non-profit Haliburton County organization, has lent its support to the All Blood is
Equal campaign, asking for help and providing links to the campaign
through social media platforms.
The All Blood is Equal campaign says CBS and Héma-Québec use “outdated, prejudiced policies which target two-spirit, gay, bisexual and queer men, trans-women and men who have sex with men.” They argue that they want to see them “screening potential donors through a scientific lens and on a case-by-case basis.” Canadian Blood Services’ chief scientist Dr. Dana Devine spoke in a video in 2018 about blood collection practices with Rob Higgins, research manager for Sex Now Survey at Community-Based Research for Gay Men’s Health. She said changing policy takes time and is done over a multi-stage process, keeping the long-term recipients of blood and blood products in mind. “That relates a bit back to their ability to trust the blood supply and to trust the providers of the blood supply and it goes right back to our tainted blood tragedy in Canada, which we got hepatitis and HIV into blood products and we harmed a lot of people in the country doing that. People need to have the trust that changes we make are not going to recreate that scenario again,” she said.
Devine said the risk for tainted blood is associated with behaviour. “The leap we have to make is going from the general population risk that one
sees in a statistic to be able to say, ‘How do we identify that subset of  sexually active gay men, who are safe blood donors?’ And right now we don’t have all the research conducted to be able to show Health Canada that we have data that will support our request to look at doing something differently,” she said.
Ridding society of systemic discrimination needs to be a constant, Rankin said. “This issue is certainly not of the same weight as some of the things that brought Black Lives Matter to the forefront, but it is just another example there are elements of systemic discrimination and that I think we have to deal with wherever we encounter that,” he said.