In December, Health Canada quietly changed its regulations to forbid gay men from donating organs, according to information obtained by the media in Manitoba. The rule applies to any man who has had sex with a man in the last five years.
The regulation could leave Canadians who’ve spent months preparing for live donation from a gay man in the lurch, but scant information is available and Health Canada isn’t providing comment on the new rules.
Ontario is contemplating an opt-out system for organ donation. If organ donation becomes default, the ban on MSM donors could have implications to gay men’s right to privacy.
Queer lobby group Egale Canada is calling on federal Health Minister Tony Clement to suspend the new policy and appoint a panel to review organ donor rules says Helen Kennedy, Egale’s executive director.
“Health Canada should be making sure the regulations stop unsafe organ transplants not create a situation where healthy viable gay organs will be thrown away,” says Kennedy in a Jan 8 press release. “The regulations that came into effect in December must be immediately suspended.”
While the new rules are being touted as similar to blood donor rules, Canadian Blood Services maintains a lifetime ban on gay blood donors.
Joshua Ferguson is the director of Standing Against Queer Discrimination (SAQD), a student group at the University of Western Ontario trying to get the blood donation ban lifted. The University of Western Ontario will debate turfing Canadian Blood Services from its campus this month.
SAQD is “calling for a clear and evidence-based explanation for both the old policy and the new,” according to a statement released by the group.
“It shows how arbitrary these bans are, not even the same rules,” says Ferguson. “On one hand [Health Canada] say they agree the policy is outdated and need research, and at the same time they turn around and choose to bypass research and rely on stereotypes.”
Adrian Lomega is fighting the blood ban through the Quebec Superior Court. He says he finds the announcement “strange” given Health Canada’s position with respect to gay blood. He enters the discovery phase of his case in February and he plans to ask Health Canada officials about the organ donation policy.
“It will certainly come up,” says Lomega.
Representatives from Health Canada did not return our requests for information by press time.