Winnipeg lawyer calls new blood donation policy 'ludicrous'

Winnipeg lawyer Corey Shefman says new guidelines for blood donation in Canada are a step in the right direction but they remain in his view, homophobic and unreasonable.

Canadian Blood Services requires gay men to abstain from sex for 12 months before donating

Starting in August, Canadian Blood Services will begin accepting blood from gay men who have abstained from sexual intercourse for a year or longer. Currently the policy only permits gay men to donate if they have abstained for five years or longer.

Winnipeg lawyer Corey Shefman says new guidelines for blood donation in Canada are a step in the right direction but they remain in his view, homophobic and unreasonable.

Currently, men who have had sex with other men are not allowed to donate blood unless they have abstained from intercourse for more than five years. Starting August 15, the policy relaxes to allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they've abstained for 12 months or longer from sex with other men.

Shefman is gay and said he has been unable to donate blood for "many years" due to the restrictions.

"The new policy isn't any more scientific than the old policy. It's based on the same bigotry and gay panic defence that the ban has been based on since the beginning," he said.

Canadian Blood Services uses a Nucleic Acid Amplification Testing (NAT test) to detect both Hepatitis C and HIV in blood donations, according to the agency's website. The test can spot HIV in blood donated by someone who contracted the disease just 16 days before the donation date.

If the test can pick up HIV in blood after such a short period of time, there's no reason people who practice safe sex should have to wait a year to donate, argued Shefman.

"What should be banned is risky sexual behaviours. A man and a woman who have unprotected sex with many different people are significantly more likely to contract blood-borne diseases than two gay men who have protected sex," he said.

Asking people to abstain from sexual activity for five years, previously, and now one year for the privilege of donating blood is ludicrous.- Corey  Shefman , Winnipeg lawyer

While Canada faces constant demand for blood donations, it's "not reasonable," Shefman said, he can't roll up his sleeve because of his identity.

"We know the system needs more blood so we need to be doing what we can to facilitate that," he said.

The move by Health Canada is a progressive one for gay and bisexual men, he said, but it doesn't go far enough to address stigma and homophobia rooted in the policy.

"It goes back to when the AIDS scare first happened gay blood was dirty blood," he said.

During the federal election campaign, the Liberals promised to eliminate the waiting period entirely for gay men who want to donate blood.

"I think we can appreciate what they're trying to do here. They're incrementally moving towards a science-based deferral period," he said.

"We need to listen to the evidence and the scientists."