Canadian Blood Services – At it Again

Canadian Blood Services (CBS) and their MSM deferral policy have been on my radar for a while now. A friend passed this editorial along to me the other day from the Globe and Mail. On a positive note, CBS is reviewing their lifetime ban on men-who-have-had-sex-with-men (MSM) again! Maybe this time they’ll follow the recommendations of their own scientists.

On an annoying note, the wording throughout this editorial makes it seem like the author has a misunderstanding of how the ban actually works. Specifically, the following sentences:

The lifetime ban on gay men donating blood is a contentious policy, one that has been rooted in science[…]

Not really. Initially, the ban was rooted in our ignorance, because we didn’t know anything about AIDS and testing was inadequate. It made sense to institute a blanket ban until we knew more. But the science hasn’t been on the side of an indefinite ban for years. In addition, this ban covers more than gay men. It’s men-who-have-had-sex-with-men in the last 34 years, a much larger category. One-time college experimentation or the rape of a man by a man would still disqualify someone, even if he were straight.

Most countries have lifetime bans, in the belief that gay men have a higher prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted and blood-borne diseases.

I just have a beef with the word “belief” in this context. In Canada, as of 2009 at least, the MSM category that CBS uses did have higher rates of HIV. It’s unfortunate, it’s a public health issue, but it’s still a fact.
Does everyone in that category have a higher risk? No.
Is the gap between that category and other categories in society decreasing? Yes.
But MSM is the category that’s used, and it doesn’t get into the fine details of a man’s monogamy or sex practices. Behaviour based questions are on the agenda for the Canadian Aids Society, so we may see that change in the future.

Past Skeptic North posts on this issue:

One Response to “Canadian Blood Services – At it Again”

  1. Milbo says:

    “Does everyone in that category have a higher risk? No.”

    Does every individual male under 21 have a higher risk of accident than every female over 21? No, but this is irrelevant, because it just isn’t how statistics work.

    If you’re going to criticise CBS’ policy, you should probably make an effort to at least understand the basics of the statistical method.

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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.