At their convention in Vancouver this past weekend, Liberal Party delegates passed a resolution that supports lifting the ban on gay men from donating organs.
“Apparently it was a positive discussion, and it passed easily, so I was quite pleased about that,” says gay Toronto MP Rob Oliphant. “It seems to be a shift in the party in understanding that this is an issue of discrimination, not an issue of some trumped-up health issue.”
The motion, brought to the floor by the Young Liberals, recognized the severe organ shortages in the country and that Canada maintains one of the lowest organ donation rates in the world. It also pointed out that all donated organs already undergo extensive tests to guard against the transmission of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. The motion also stated that there are no recorded cases of organ recipients contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C from organs donated by a gay man.
Delegates resolved that the ban on MSM (men who have sex with men) organ donation should be overturned, and further, that Health Canada should refocus its efforts toward screening and education programs about potentially risky sexual activities for all groups, independent of their sexual orientation.
“I think that all policy has to be based on science, and that the Canadian Blood Services needs to make decisions based on risk,” says the party’s health critic, MP Carolyn Bennett. “I think that there’s a difference between risk and discrimination.”
Citing the fact that heterosexuals who engage in risky sexual behaviour are not faced by the same ban as a gay couple who have been monogamous for years, Bennett sees a problem with the current system.
“I want to know what the science is, and I want them to look at all of their policies based on pure science, not on what seems to be easier.”
While the resolution covered only organs and not the current blood donor ban as well, Bennett says that the science should still be paramount.
“Infectious risk is infectious risk, so I want to know what the risk is,” says Bennett. “The ability to test the actual specimen is going to be hugely important in terms of getting the right answer and not accidentally excluding a whole population of healthy people from whom we [can] harvest their organs.”
Though it is now party policy, a promise to overturn the organ donor ban may not turn up in the party’s next election platform, which leader Michael Ignatieff has said that he wants to be ready for June.
“It depends on whether it’s a broadcast platform or a narrow-cast platform,” says Oliphant. “I suspect we’ll have a broadcast platform, with bigger things. This is a pretty specific issue.”
Oliphant believes it is less important that the policy make it into the platform than the fact that it makes it into legislation.
“Most legislation is going to flow from people like me pushing it,” says Oliphant. “Party policy, that’s good. Generic stuff on human rights and non-discrimination will be there, and then I will try to work at it to make sure it gets in.”
“I want it to be government policy — that’s my goal.”