blood ban canada

Canada is finally scrapping its outdated rule banning gay men from donating blood

In what amounts to an historic victory for both human rights and individuals who need emergency transfusions, Health Canada has at long last approved the elimination of a blanket ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men.

"Today's authorization is a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system nationwide, and builds on progress in scientific evidence made in recent years," wrote the federal health agency in a news release Thursday morning.

"Over the past decade, Health Canada has authorized several changes to the donor deferral period for men who have sex with men, from a lifetime restriction to five years in 2013, to one year in 2016 and to three months in 2019."

While progress has been made over the years, many Canadians remain unsettled by the fact that any such ban still exists in 2022 — and for now, it does still exist.

Canadian Blood Services (CBS) says that it expects to implement its new, less-homophobic donor screening approach by September 30, 2022.

"Today, Health Canada authorized a submission from Canadian Blood Services to eliminate the current three-month blanket donor deferral period for all sexually active men who have sex with men, and instead screen all donors, regardless of gender or sexuality, for high-risk sexual behaviours," reads today's release.

"Under the new screening approach, Canadian Blood Services will introduce a sexual behaviour-based donor-screening questionnaire that will apply to all donors of blood and plasma."

CBS had asked Health Canada in December to effectively lift the ban on gay men, arguing in favour of a screening system that screens donors of all genders and sexual orientations based on their individual histories and behaviours.

Under the Blood Regulations, Canadian Blood Services is required to make submissions to Health Canada for any process changes.

"Health Canada's authorization is based on a thorough assessment of evidence supporting the safety of the revised donor screening," wrote the government department in its release.

"To help inform its review, Health Canada convened a group of scientific and medical experts knowledgeable in the field of blood safety for a one-day meeting, which took place April 13, 2022, to seek input on specific technical questions."

Like many experts before them, these scientists determined that the proposed screening model was "acceptable" and that "the estimated risk was extremely low and not significant." 

Canada is far from the only country that has barred men who have sex with men from donating blood (either outright or by deferral), nor is it the only country where rules have been modified over time.

Health Canada first implemented a lifetime ban preventing gay men from donating blood in 1992, but reduced this to a five-year deferral (only if an individual refrains from having sex with other men the entire) in 2013. 

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