Pride P.E.I. chairman calls for changes to 'ridiculous' blood donation policy

Tyler Murnaghan says it’s disappointing homosexual men can’t donate blood with an urgent need for donors

Dave Stewart
Published on October 9, 2014

Tyler Murnaghan, interim chairman of Pride P.E.I., is upset that men who have had sex with men within the past five years are banned from donating blood. He is standing in front of the Canadian Blood Services offices in Charlottetown.

©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

The interim chairman of Pride P.E.I. says it’s ridiculous that homosexual men aren’t allowed to donate blood.

Tyler Murnaghan is reacting to the Canadian Blood Services nationwide appeal for blood donations last week.

Peter MacDonald, director of donor relations in Atlantic Canada for CBS, said there was an urgent need and that their inventory was at the lowest point since 2008.

“In fact, it’s 35 per cent below what we plan for at this point in time,’’ MacDonald said last week.

Murnaghan said there are lots of people willing to line up to donate but aren’t allowed to. Men who have had sex with other men in the past five years are prohibited from donating blood.

“It’s disappointing to know that people need this blood to get surgeries and there’s nothing you can do to help,’’ Murnaghan said. “It definitely comes from the stigma, the blood crisis that happened years ago, the stigma around HIV AIDS. It all stems from that.’’

When asked for comment, Canadian Blood Services said no one was immediately available for comment but the organization did provide some background behind the decision.

CBS says before introductory testing on HIV in the mid-1980s, thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV through tainted blood products. Being solely responsible for the blood supply at the time, the Canadian Red Cross subsequently introduced donor eligibility criteria that excluded men who have sex with men (MSM), even once, since 1977 to protect the blood supply.

“That criteria was embedded into Health Canada regulations in 1992. The MSM population continues to account for the largest proportion of new HIV infections reported in Canada,’’ Canadian Blood Services indicated in an email to The Guardian.

The organization periodically reviews donor eligibility criteria, such as MSM. Last year, Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec received approval from Health Canada to reduce the MSM deferral period from indefinite to five years. This means five years after a man has had sex with another man, he will be eligible to donate blood, as long as he meets other donor eligibility criteria.

Some people who are upset with the policy have taken to comment on Pride P.E.I.’s Facebook page.

“It’s unreal how we’d rather face a medical crisis than deal with underhanded forms of discrimination,’’ says Nathalie Carrier.

“The scientific reasoning behind this ban is flawed and discriminative,’’ writes Jenna Hicken. “CBS is required to scan and test your blood before it’s donated to ensure patient safety. What an awful view to have of people, sad reality of how far we still have to come to acceptance of humanity.’’

Murnaghan said it isn’t hard to see why there is such a shortage of blood when so many people are prevented from donating.