Not a step forward

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MONTREAL (CUP) — On Sept. 8, the United Kingdom’s Health Department announced that, as of November, gay men will be allowed to give blood – if they refrain from any form of sexual contact for an entire year. Although deemed progressive by some, this newly established concession is actually more ignorant than it is groundbreaking.

In light of the UK’s new stance, Canada may reconsider its own policy, as it is currently one of many countries that forbid gay men from donating blood at all. It’s great that Canada wants to be “progressive” and “tolerant,” but hopefully our country can realize that the UK’s recent announcement is neither of the above. On the contrary, this “lightened” ban is more of a colossal slap in the face than a step in the right direction.

“Blood donation eligibility criteria should be based on individual behaviour, backed by advanced screening, not on sexuality,” wrote Nursing Times reporter Steve Ford.

Although it is crucial that blood donation agencies follow strict protocol that requires their donors to be tested for any medical, sexual, or drug-related blips, they shouldn’t assume that HIV is exclusively a homosexual disease.

Best Health magazine recently reported that in a 2010 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dr. Mark Wainberg, a prominent researcher in the field of HIV/AIDS, argued that the ban is illegitimate. He wrote “the risk of a false negative on an HIV test has been nearly eliminated since Canada’s blood system began using a highly sensitive nucleic acid test to screen blood.”

If health systems are able to thoroughly screen blood, why must gay men kiss their libidos goodbye for an entire year in the UK? More importantly, with the technological advances the world has seen, why hasn’t this ban been abolished sooner?

The only real reason for these full or partial bans must be called what it is: flagrant discrimination.

Partially lifting the ban in the UK just isn’t good enough. The gay community is asking for complete equality – something it deserves. It is nonsensical to stereotype a group based on sexual orientation, depriving them of the fundamental right to donate clean blood.

Shame on the members of the UK Health Department. They shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back: what they’ve done wasn’t progressive. It was discriminatory. If they want to earn their kudos, they should abolish the ban, use the technology available to effectively screen blood and stop hiding behind dated stereotypes. As for Canada, we should learn from the mistakes made across the pond, and make a change that actually moves us forward.

Camille Chacra
The Link (Concordia University)

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