A grassroots organization based out of Windsor, Ontario, tabled a petition April 29 calling for the Canadian government to put an end to legislation that allows doctors to refuse organ donations from men who have had sex with men (MSM). “Currently, doctors are not obligated to consider men who have had sex with men in the preceding five years for organ and tissue donation,” reads a press release distributed by iCANdonate. “Petition 412 calls upon the Government of Canada to review its policy on organ donor eligibility and change it to ensure that sexual orientation is not a factor for automatic refusal.”
The campaign was started in memory of Rocky Campana, a gay man who died at the age of 23. Upon his death, the hospital turned away his organs after learning from his parents that he was a sexually active gay man. In response, Rob and Nancy Campana created Petition 412, calling for the government to review its legislation on organ and blood donor eligibility.
Currently in Canada, MSM are subject to a five-year deferral period, during which they must not engage in any sexual activity with another man before they are eligible to donate blood. When it comes to organs, it isn’t illegal for gay men to donate; however, doctors are not obligated to consider organs donated by MSM and can deem them ineligible for transplant.
The iCANdonate campaign has the support of the Canadian Transplant Association, as well as 38 MPs from four federal political parties, executive coordinator Amanda Iarusso says. Political supporters include Halifax MP Megan Leslie and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Iarusso says the organization is looking to create a formalized partnership with the Canadian National Transplant Research Association to do advocacy work at the provincial level. The group is also calling for education in the medical community and the implementation of standardized consent forms at transplant agencies.
“When you have 250 Canadians dying each year on the transplant list, doing continuous research is a step, but it’s not enough,” Iarusso says, noting that the Senate has studied the issue in the past. “We need to be taking more concrete action in expanding our organ donor base and who is eligible to donate, because at the end of the day, a single organ donor can save up to eight lives.”
Now that the petition has been tabled, the government has 45 days to make a written response. Iarusso says this response will allow iCANdonate to determine what their next step should be. “The petition was more symbolic in the sense of getting public engagement and awareness, but now it’s really time to take action to see actual change.”
In the long term, she says, the organization is hoping to form a political partnership to table a private member’s bill, and she stresses the need for more viable organs to be made available. “With so many people on our Canadian transplant list, a healthy organ is a healthy organ, no matter who it comes from.”