As of June 20, 2016, Health Canada has officially approved Canadian Blood Services’ request to reduce the five year abstinence restriction on men who have sex with men to a period of one year of abstinence before being eligible to donate blood. This change will take effect in August 2016 for both Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec. Despite the reduction in the deferral period, it is still highly restrictive to men who have sex with men (MSM) blood donors and continues to foster a culture of discrimination and stigma.
The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity has advocated for an end to any length of ban, but also strongly advocates evidence based practice. The original implementation of a MSM ban policy in the 1980s was not research based; however, all changes are now required by Health Canada to be supported by research evidence. The reduction of the deferral period also comes with Health Canada’s commitment of $3M to fund behavioural research and pathogen-testing technology. As it stands, there is little existing research on how sexual behaviour creates risk for the blood supply, nor research demonstrating that MSM should be restricted as donors.
Since 2012, the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity has been a part of a MSM Deferral Policy Working Group, and continues to work closely with Canadian Blood Services, Héma-Québec, and our Advisory Committee to bring awareness to the discriminatory policies in place, and the research based polices we continue to strive for.
Statement from the Minister of Health on one year blood donor deferral period for MSM
Canadian Blood Services statement on deferral reduction
Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity official statement to deferral reduction
Canadian Blood Services donor eligibility resources for MSM
Canadian Blood Services places restrictions on transgender donors
Frequently asked questions
What are the donor eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men in Canada?
From August 15, 2016, men who have sex with men are required to abstain from any sexual contact with another man for a period of one year before they are considered eligible to give a blood donation with Canadian Blood Services or Héma-Québec if they meet all other donor eligibility criteria.
Can a woman donate blood if she has had a MSM partner in the past year?
No, if a woman has had sexual contact in the past year with a man who has had sex with another man she is not eligible to donate blood.
What are the donor eligibility criteria for trans and gender non-conforming individuals?
From August 15, 2016, Canadian Blood Services will screen trans and gender non-conforming individuals based on their assigned sex at birth and whether or not they have had genital surgery. Those who have not had gender-affirming genital surgery will be screened by their assigned sex at birth. Those who have had gender-affirming genital surgery will be required to wait one year post surgery before being eligible for donation; after one year they will be screened by their affirmed gender.
How will behaviour based research help to remove the MSM deferral period?
The deferral period, which is not evidence based practice, operates by assuming one group (MSM) is more likely to taint the blood supply, notably with HIV. All blood donated to Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec are tested for pathogens which can be detected after 9 to 11 days after an individual is infected. Men are required to abstain from sexual contact with another man for an arbitrary one year, a deferral that not all donors are required to wait.
With behavioural research, it will be possible to gather data on low versus high risk donors based on their sexual behaviour, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity. With this data, Health Canada can make evidence based policy decisions that accurately assess risk through behaviour and end the discrimination and restriction of certain groups.
Where can I learn more about the deferral period and eligibility criteria?
You can learn more about the MSM blood ban, the advent of the deferral period, and current donor eligibility criteria on the Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec website.
How can I help end the MSM blood ban?
There are so many ways you can get involved:
- Call your Member of Parliament and let them know how important evidence based decision making is for policy, and that they should support the House of Commons Standing Health Committee in this work
- Encourage those who are eligible to donate to fill out the survey after their donation to express how important this issues is to Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec
- Donate to the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity so we can continue our work to end the ban entirely