Gay Blood Vs. Gay Sperm Donation - A Disconnect

I’ve long argued that Canadian Blood Services and Health Canada’s current regulation regarding the Gay Blood Ban is misguided. The Liberal Government has failed in promises to “end” the gay blood ban in Canada, and instead reinforced it by downgrading the ban from 5 years to 1 year. To me, reducing the ban still says that blood coming from Gay men is risky. This is not the message we got in 2015.

Health Canada is working on amendments to the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. These amendements, among others, include changes to the deferment period for gay men sperm donation. There has been a lot of media attention regarding the gay blood ban since 2015, however much less attention has been given to the changes to sperm donation rules.

The reported changes will see a gay men sperm donation lifetime ban reduced to a deferment period of 6 months (see 2.1.1(l)) following a sexual encounter with another man. This change is an obvious step in the right direction. But as the headline at DailyXTRA reads, it still “continues anti-gay discrimination”.

I can’t help but ask myself where Health Canada came up with the 6-month number. The HIV virus is rarely transmitted via semen in patients with low blood virus counts. In fact, if patients are treated and achieve undetectable viral counts in the blood, risk of sexual transmission is practically zero. Further, as I have argued before, men who have sex with men are not automatically at higher-risk for HIV infection. However, certain behaviours - such as promiscuous, anonymous, or unprotected sex - can increase your risk of HIV infection regardless of your sexual orientation. Countries in Europe, notably Italy and Spain, have begun screening blood donation patients based on behaviours, rather than a blanket sexual-orientation based ban.

Día Mundial de la Lucha contra el Sida * World AIDS Day

A 6-month deferment on sperm donation for men doesn’t follow Health Canada’s current policy on the deferment period for gay blood donation (1 year currently), and Health Canada has not (to the best of my knowledge) explained this distinction. Considering Spain and Italy have had no “public-health crisis” as a result of behavioural-based screening, and that the American Red Cross and American Association of Blood Banks support this approach, I’m surprised Health Canada is so weary about gay blood and sperm donation.

Today (December 2nd, 2018) is Health Canada’s day to consult the people of Halifax on the proposed changes to the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. I have the following questions for Health Canada regarding the proposed changes for sperm donation:

I hope that we can work together to build a world that we will be proud to live in. It is up to the Government of Canada to lead efforts to reduce discrimination towards LGBTQ+ folks in society. To achieve that, we must work towards removing bans and deferment periods based on sexual-orientation blanket bans for both blood donations and sperm donations.