Health Canada announced on May 22 that it will be lifting a ban on male blood donors who have had sex with men.
Blood donor screening will be changed from asking potential male donors if they have had sex with a man "even once, since 1977" to the past five years. The policy change by both Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec will take effect in a few weeks.
Canadian Blood Services initiated a re-examination of this policy in 2011 and conducted risk analysis and consultation with scientists and patient and community groups.
Jennifer Breakspear, executive director of the Vancouver-based Options for Sexual Health and co-chair of the Canadian Blood Services MSM deferral policy working group, participated in the consultations.
"I will continue to advocate for gender neutral behaviour based screening but this change is a step in the right direction," she stated. "I applaud Canadian Blood Services for arranging consultations with LGTB groups and patient groups. The collaborative experience helped everyone involved develop greater understanding and empathy for each other."
NDP health critic Libby Davies and NDP LGBTQ critic Randall Garrison issued a statement in January, in response to a policy change request submitted by Canadian Blood Services to Health Canada. Davies and Garrison argued that blood screening should be based on a behaviour-based model rather than sexual identity.
"A five-year ban on the ability for gay men to donate blood is not science based and is still just as discriminatory as a lifetime ban," they stated.
The lifetime ban would have prevented not only gay and bisexual men from donating blood but any male who may have sexually experimented with other men at any point in his life as well as men who have been raped.
Canada joins New Zealand in requiring a five-year deferral period.
Countries which allow MSM to donate blood without any restrictions include Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, Spain, Italy, and Poland. Countries which have a six-month to one-year deferral period include Sweden, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and the United Kingdom.
The United States, France, Germany, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland are among the countries which maintain an indefinite ban.