Canadian policy shift could allow gay men to donate blood more freely

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Canadian Blood Services (CBS) plan a shift in policy that will target everyone's sexual behaviour before blood donation and remove restrictions on men who have had recent sex with other men.

The move comes in the wake of mounting calls to abolish the current policy -- which has been in place in various forms for decades -- because it discriminates against gay and bisexual men.

The policy change went before the board of Canadian Blood Services today (June 18), but will need approval by Health Canada before it comes into effect, possibly by the end of this year in some Canadian locations.

Currently, men are only eligible to give blood if it has been more than three months since their last sexual contact with another man.  

The goal of the CBS is to remove the current waiting period for men and instead replace it with sexual behaviour-based screening for all donors no matter the sexual orientation.

Many current policy regulations regarding blood donations relate to events of the 1980s with the rise of HIV/AIDS and the initial spread of the disease in the gay community.

In what was called the "tainted blood scandal," thousands of Canadians were exposed to HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products received through inadequately screened transfusions from high-risk donors.

The result led to decades of regulations that essentially curbed the ability of gay men to donate blood in Canada.

While policies have been loosened over the years, the current three-month wait period for men who have had sex with men is considered one of the last hurdles to be cleared for an across-the-board equitable system.

A recent Federal Court ruling on the issue has cleared the way for a Brampton man to pursue a human rights complaint against Health Canada over the three month wait period for men.

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