Monday, January 7, 2008

Gay blood is contagious...

Reading one of the recent news stories about blood donation in Canada, I was shocked to read that men who have engaged in sex with other men in the past 25 years cannot donate blood. I am not a medical doctor, and I confess that I'm not an expert in the issue, but as far as I know, being gay or having sex with a same-sex partner is not a contagious disease. And, as far as I know, most of the other STDs are quite common in heterosexual relations as well. So, I'm confused: why is it that?

I went to the Canadian Blood Services website to look for some answers. In their brochure on things you should know to donate blood, I read that you are at high risk of having HIV if you are a male and if you had engaged in sex with another male after 1977. As presented in the document, having a gay sexual life places you in the group with high risk of contracting HIV, and therefore it is recommended that you do not donate blood. I wonder if 'recommended' means the same thing with 'forbidden'.

I also wonder why only gay sexual behavior is singled out as being prone to HIV transmissions. The UK Blood Transfusion and Tissue Transplantation Services website seems to offer me some answers: gay men are asked not to donate because
gay men, as a group, are known to be at an increased risk of acquiring HIV and a number of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), many of which are carried in the blood. It is specific behaviours, rather than being gay, which places gay men at increased risk of HIV infection.Safer sex will keep most gay men free from infection,however research shows that allowing gay men as a group to donate blood would increase the risk of HIV infected blood entering the blood supply.

But so are sex-workers engaged in heterosexual relations, I'd say (obviously, from a lay perspective, which can always be challenged). It's a tricky and sensitive matter, I agree. I definitely do not want to be infected by some complex disease through a blood transfusion. And the truth is, we have already been confronted with such cases: take the Romanian
children infected with a HIV tainted blood supply from Western Europe in the late '80s/ early '90s.

Yet, as much as I want to feel secure when I go to the hospital and receive treatment, I'm also wondering if making gayness a reason for excluding a particular group (defined through sexual practices) from donating blood is indeed reasonable, or if it's merely the result of a conglomerate of stereotypes othering sexual practices. After all, it took a long battle to remove homosexuality from the list of 'diseases' and accept it as simply a sexual practice. Until further evidence, I feel quite unconvinced by the Canadian Blood Services policy.


ionuka said...

I struggled with the same questions, after a friend told me he couldn't donate blood because he's gay. The thing I don't understand is why have this restriction when all donated blood is tested for HIV anyway before being used. I guess they are trying to eliminate the possiblity of using blood which was recently infected, because it may not test positive for a few months. Even so, some sources say that, in recent years, only 5-10% of newly infected cases come from sexual contact between men ( So it does not make much sense to me.
I don't know the Canadian poilicies, but in the US foreigners can't donate blood either. Or people who have had tatoos recently. Truth be told, I am honored to share this distinctive category with gays and people with tatoos. I feel I'm in the cool group.

thinking about difference said...

yes, i think there's a bunch of questions to be asked on why gays are not allowed to donate blood, and maybe the reasons are not all 'scientific', but also cultural.

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