2 min

Gay man challenges blood service

Anonymous e-mails set off panic attack

Canadian Blood Services has tracked down the gay man who admitted in an anonymous e-mail to donating blood contrary to the organization’s rules.

Threatening civil legal action of $100,000 for “negligent representation,” the service found the man through his Internet service provider and met with him Monday to ask him questions about his HIV-status and sexual behaviour.

The Jun 14 e-mail send by the man, referred to on CBS’s statement of claim as John Doe set off a tizzy. He was complaining about how the blood screening process discriminates against men who have sex with men, but it was the information he provided about himself that set off the alarm bells.

“I am a gay man and have been involved in a long term committed relationship,” he wrote in an e-mail that was also circulated to the media. “Both my partner and myself have been tested for the HIV virus and are both negative and intend to stay that way. We are both very honest people, and are both blood donors.”

But according to CBS, being a gay man and blood donor are not compatible. Among other questions used to screen prospective blood donors, CBS asks male donors, “Have you had sex with a man, even one time since 1977?” And they ask female donors, “In the past 12 months, have you had sex with a man who had sex, even one time since 1977, with another man?”

CBS says John Doe falsely represented himself and it’s taking the admission very seriously, even though the man says he’s HIV-negative and the service has rigorous tests for the blood it does let into the system.

“This is a first,” says media relations manager Jirina Vlk. “We believe that the risk to the system is very low…. We don’t have that indication [that the person is HIV-positive], but we take his declaration of providing false information very seriously.”

Vlk says that once the identity of the man has been confirmed, they’ll do a “look back” to find out where his blood is in the system. If it’s already been used in transfusions, they’ll contact those recipients and advise them to get tested for HIV. If it’s still in the system, it will be destroyed. She said criminal charges have not yet been considered.

“We’re not entirely sure what we’re going to do next,” says Vlk.

In an e-mail, John Doe says it’s prejudice, not risk to the blood supply, that’s at issue.

“I would like CBS to stop their campaign of inciting prejudice within our community by presuming that gay equals HIV,” Doe writes in an e-mail. “I would like them to take the right path of social equality and to assess… people on their individual merits, not their sexual orientation. Especially since they already ask questions about sexual promiscuity and other activities which increase the likelihood of infection.”

The question of whether men who have sex with men should automatically be disqualified from donating blood is a sensitive one for Canadian Blood Services. It hosted a “consensus conference” last winter called “Optimizing The Donor Selection Process,” which mainly focussed on the very question the e-mailer takes issue with. Representatives from the queer lobby group Egale Canada suggested at the conference the question violated the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms and played to negative stereotypes of gay men.

Three years ago, a Quebec man, Joel Pinon, made headlines when he revealed that he lied on the questionnaire to donate blood to that province’s blood service. After he was banned from donating, he filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission, but that complaint was dismissed this spring.