Judge Gets the Science Right

Blood dropletBack in November, I wrote a post about Canadian Blood Services (CBS), and their indefinite ban on donations from men who have had sex with men (MSM). The point of the post was that an indefinite ban is not supported by science. Well, the ruling for Canadian Blood Services v. Kyle Freeman is in, and it’s more complicated than just whether CBS has science on its side, but I’ll stay away from the Charter and negligence aspects of the case.

Part of Justice Catherine Aitken’s decision was that she found no persuasive evidence for a 33 year ban on blood donations from MSM, and that CBS should bring its policies in line with the evidence. Pages 150 to 175 of the ruling go in depth through the past discussions and studies relating to the MSM ban, and are an interesting read. There are aspects of the ban that don’t get much press, such as the possibility for transmission of novel diseases. At the end, though, this quote sums up Justice Aitken’s opinion of CBS’s evidence:

“However, evidence was lacking of the existence of real concerns that would make a deferral period of 33 years necessary in order to maintain the current level of safety. Certainly, there was no such evidence supporting the annual increase in the length of the deferral period.”

Given their past responses to the issue, I’m not really surprised that the CBS press conference completely neglected to mention this, instead focusing on the parts of the ruling that confirm that screening is necessary, that the interests of donors and recipients must be carefully balanced, and that the judge did not accept the counter-suit that this was a Charter issue.

Are restrictions on blood donation based on past behaviour reasonable? Yes.
Are indefinite, annually increasing, bans reasonable? No.

However, the more interesting thing about the editorials and articles I read mentioning the MSM aspect of the case is the black and white way it is presented. Either we let all gay men donate blood or none. The truth is in that uncomfortable grey zone in the middle.

It’s something to keep in mind when researching. A lot of skeptics seem to thrive in that grey zone, but media outlets rarely do.

One Response to “Judge Gets the Science Right”

  1. Composer99 says:

    I would imagine media outlets rarely thrive in the subtleties and nuances of the real world (which, admittedly, I always envision as a riot of colour rather than a dismal set of shades of grey or a computer-like binary black/white) simply because media outlets are mostly filled with human beings with all their cognitive traps, intuitive heuristics, biases, etc etc.

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  • Marion Kilgour

    Marion is a mechanical engineer, and also works to promote critical thinking and scientific literacy through local skeptical and atheist activism in Edmonton, Alberta. Marion especially wishes to encourage girls to consider science or technology-based careers, and is involved in the University of Alberta's Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) project.