A Windsor woman believes her late son's organs were rejected for donation because he was gay.

Nancy Campana's son Rocky was an organ donor, but none were used after his death.

"I was asked if he was a gay male and I said, 'yes.' And I was asked if he was a sexually active gay male or if he had a partner and I said, 'yes,'" Campana said of a conversation she had with Trillium Gift of Life following Rocky's death.

She said the tone of the conversation changed, and the family was later told they could not donate Rocky's organs.

"When I got off the phone to relay that to both [Rocky's father] Rob and a lot of Rocky's friends ... many of them broke down," she said. "The gay ones said, 'Nancy, we can't donate blood; they're not going to take our organs.'"

Organ donation

According to the Trillium Gift of Life Network, there are approximately 1,500 people waiting for an organ transplant in Ontario right now.

So far this year, 129 people have have donated in this province, which is down from 132 during the same period last year.

Health Canada changed the rules for organ donation in late 2007. The changes mean sexually active gay men, injection drug users and other groups considered high risk will no longer be accepted as organ donors.

The rules are similar to the regulations for determining who can donate blood. Those rules exclude groups that are at high risk of transmitting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C and B.

Under Health Canada policy:

  • A gay man who had practised abstinence for five years prior to organ donation would be considered an acceptable donor.
  • A heterosexual man who has had a single sexual encounter with a male within the past five years would not be considered an acceptable donor.

The Campanas are currently working with staff at the office of Windsor West NDP MP Brian Masse to table a petition that would ask the House of Commons to change the rules governing organ donation. They want it to be easier for a gay man's organs to be donated.

A Masse spokesperson said the petition's language has been vetted by the Petitions Branch in the House of Commons.

The Campanas and others will soon start gathering signatures.

Trillium CEO Ronnie Gavsie said that while a donor's sexuality is not a deciding factor, it does make a difference.

"According to the Health Canada legislation, a man or woman who is gay would fall into the high-risk category. But that fact alone would not preclude them from being a donor," she said. "That is just one of the many factors that go into being in the high-risk category."

Other factors include whether a donor uses injection drugs, has had a recent tattoo or piercing, is an inmate of a correctional facility or has haemophilia and has received donated blood.

"And then, someone who is high risk, that information will be carried forward to the potential recipient," said Gavsie.

The Campanas say the explanation given to them was that trace amounts of drugs were found in Rocky's system.

But they say doctors at the hospital told them the results could be a false positive, because of the drugs used to try to save his life. Rocky Campana attempted suicide and was taken off life support shortly after in August of last year.

His family believes this is about sexual orientation, and now they're taking on the system that categorizes gay donors as high risk.

"That was Rocky. Injustices were big to him, so I think that we are really determined to try to get the word out to everyone," said Rob Campana.