Canada: Gay Men Could Soon Be Allowed to Donate Blood

Canada could be the next country to relax its absolute ban on blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man since 1977, a move that may gain momentum following the United Kingdom's recent policy shift on MSM blood donors.

The United Kingdom on Thursday announced that health ministers in England, Scotland, and Wales will end a lifetime blood donation ban for MSM that began in the 1980s as a response to AIDS. From Nov. 7, these three UK countries will begin accepting as blood donors MSM who have been sexually abstinent for one year, among other criteria. They join Australia and Italy in retooling MSM blood donor eligibility policies.

"Certainly we already have a process underway where we're looking to see about changing from a permanent to a time-based deferral," said Dr. Dana Devine, Canadian Blood Services' (CBS) vice president of medical, scientific and research affairs. "It is a step-wise thing and we have lots of consultation to do. I do think it will happen in Canada."

CBS is working in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; any policy change would have to be approved by Health Canada. CBS has previously cited the need for further research before relaxing the lifetime ban, but the experience of a tainted blood scandal in the 1980s also remains a barrier.

"People, I think appropriately, carry the recollection of that," said Devine. "We're not going to do anything that adds increased risk."

"The challenge is making change palatable to various stakeholders, including Health Canada, the government, and the people of Canada," said Doug Elliot, who represented the Canadian AIDS Society in investigating the government's early response to HIV in the blood supply. "Unfortunately, I fear that it may take another crisis to do it," such as fatalities from blood shortages, he said. "I hope it doesn't get that far."