Thursday, January 27, 2011

I'm no Scientist... 7 / 30

but I play one on television.  When I read this story in the Chronicle Herald I was at first happy to see some forward thinking.  And I can see that this is a step in the right direction, but the article kind of glosses over one important factor - gay men, under the proposed change, would be able to give blood again, assuming they are celibate.  Pardon me???

Let me see if I understand the rationale here - thirty years ago, the initial outbreak of AIDS was largely in the gay community.  Therefore, if you are a man who has had sex with a man (note it does not define what sex is here... handjob?  oral?  anal?  footjob?) since 1977, you are currently precluded from giving blood.  So if you have been in a monogamous gay relationship for the last forty years, you can’t give blood.  This change would have no impact upon men like this. 

I am no expert on the gay community, but I am willing to wager that there are a lot of gay men who are practicing safe sex and/or are in monogamous relationships and are at far less risk of contracting or passing on HIV than many of the young, straight college kids these days.  Now, to be fair to the reporting, according to the CDC, men having sex with men (gay or not) do still represent a significant percentage of the new HIV transmission statistics.  However, and this is important to remember, they are not the largest group with HIV/AIDS.  Yes, they may be more likely to be carrying the virus, but they are a much smaller percentage of the population.  In fact, according to Health Canada, the groups that are at the most increasing risk these days are aboriginal persons and straight women.  So why are gay men being refused the opportunity to give blood?

Hell, some of my friends and colleagues (who are gay) are at far less risk than I am to be carriers.  They have been in monogamous relationships for over fifteen years, have no piercings or tattoos, and have had HIV tests.  I have never had an HIV specific blood test (though I have had so many tests I would be surprised to learn they didn’t test for HIV on at least one occasion), have a piercing and a tattoo, and for a year in my late twenties, was rampantly non-monogamous, to the point of dangerous behaviour.  And when you factor in that HIV and AIDS can take over ten years to become symptomatic (WHO information)... I am far more risky than they are.  But I can happily give blood, while they are denied the opportunity.

One of the reasons that gay men are more susceptible to HIV transmission is the act of anal sex.  Newsflash to Health Canada - not all gay men engage in anal sex, and anal sex is by no means limited to the gay male community.  Plenty of straight people do it too! 

Now, if the question was “Have you engaged in unprotected sex, and in particular anal intercourse, with someone who’s sexual history you are unaware of in the last year?” that would be a fair question to ask.  That is sexual behaviour that increases your chance of HIV contact.   And it is gender / orientation neutral - we all have anuses.

But like I said, I am no scientist.  And that is the scary part... if its obvious to the rest of us, that the test is discriminatory, hateful and unnecessary while also failing to accurately capture the information that we really ought to be examining, they why is the government, and Canadian Blood Services, holding on to this ‘scientific’ information so tightly?  What are they afraid of? 

Is it possible that a gay man giving blood could taint the supply with HIV?  Yes.  Unlikely, but possible.  Is it possible that a straight woman could taint the supply with HIV?  Yes.  Unlikely, but possible.  So why does she get to give, to help to save another’s life, while he doesn’t?

Lets face it, its about prejudice, plain and simple.  If there is no statistical or scientific evidence to support the bias, and in fact the test itself is flawed, then its time to put the puritan shadows of fifty years ago aside, let all members of our society, regardless of where they fall on the straight / gay spectrum, be full members of our society.

So Health Canada, if you want to regulate behaviour, go ahead.  But when you want to moralize and punish sexuality, you’ll be held accountable.


  1. I'd also just like to point out that with all of this crazy technology and flying cars and hover pants that we have "nowadays" (as The Captain would say), you'd think they could invent a test for HIV in donated blood. Or maybe screen *everyone's* blood, regardless if they have "ever had sex with a gay man, even once, since 1977" or "ever lived in (name your African country), even once, since 1982" or if they have "ever had sex, even once, with a prostitute".

    But, I guess that's probably too much to ask.

  2. That's also a good point - why haven't we invested more research into just detection?

    My Google-fu lead me, in about 10 seconds flat, to where they discuss an oral fluid only test, that can be administered quickly and cheaply, and has preliminary results in 20 minutes. How hard would it be to have everyone who wants to give blood take this test and wait 20 minutes prior to donating. Or even undergo the donation while the thing is completing its test, and if its negative, groovy, they walk out after their cookie. Positive, they get referred for additional testing and confirmation, and the blood they donated is destroyed. Simple. Easy. Secure. Non-discriminatory.