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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Canada Bans Gay Organ Donors

posted by on January 8 at 10:10 AM

Yeah, yeah: gay men have always been generous with their organs. Snicker, snicker. But Canadian GLBT groups are up in arms about this news:

[New] Health Canada regulations that mean sexually active gay men, injection drug users and other groups considered high risk will no longer be accepted as organ donors.

The new rules, which came into effect in December, are similar to the regulations for determining who can donate blood. Those rules exclude groups that are at high risk of transmitting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C and B.

Okay, now before gay folks, activists, and orgs freak out about this patently discriminatory policy and the ginormous unfairness of it all—oops, too late.

Some in the gay community complained that the new policy is wrong-headed and that Health Canada should focus on risky sexual behaviours, not sexual orientation.

“I think it’s more of an issue of anal sex, anal intercourse, than it is to do with whether someone is gay or straight,” said Dean Robinson, a gay activist.

Okay, before anymore gay folks, activists, or orgs freak out about this, we have to recognize that our response will be viewed in light of a recent cascade of distressing headlines about gay men and STIs. A sampling:

Risky Sexual Behavior Among MSM in Europe Increasing Number of Syphilis Cases, Health Officials Say

Arizona Gays Face Growing Number Of Syphilis Cases

HIV on Rise Among Gay New Yorkers

Examining Bathhouse Policy, NYC Says HIV Infections Up

I agree that an out-an-out ban on gay organ donors—or blood donors—is a blunt instrument. Potential gay male donors with less risky lifestyles than some straight donors are needlessly turned away. But most public health measures are blunt instruments. And I don’t think medical organizations seeking blood and organs for desperately ill patients are tossing gay men’s out for the shits and giggles of it all.
And if we’re going to get exercised about our blood and organs being discriminated against, we have to answer for—and do something about—higher rates of STIs among gay men. We can’t simply insist that it’s discriminatory for health officials—some of whom are gay—to look at our community’s STI rates when they’re contemplating pumping our blood or transplanting our organs into desperately sick people—some of whom are gay themselves—and decide it’s too risky.

RSS icon Comments


it's such a waste, too, considering what good shape so many gay men are in, and therefore how healthy the organs would be if not hiv infected. a test for disease prior to implantation wouldn't be adequate?

Posted by ellarosa | January 8, 2008 10:16 AM

But most public health measures are blunt instruments.

Well said, Dan.

Posted by Uplift | January 8, 2008 10:18 AM

My liver is worth a dollar!

Syphilis is so easy to get rid of. Who cares.

Posted by Mr. Poe | January 8, 2008 10:18 AM

And the problem is? I don't see an issue. It is a very prudent thing to do.

Posted by Reality Check | January 8, 2008 10:22 AM

If I were in liver failure and would die within a few months without a new liver (and at the current rate of my alcohol consumption you never know), I would take the risk of HIV infection and I would even likely knowingly contract HIV for the new liver. People don't get organ transplants until they are at death's door and given current HIV treatment can keep HIV poz people healthy for decades, it's interesting that this policy essentially cuts short people's lives instead of keeping them on expensive medications for the rest of their lives, but still alive. And besides all this they do check for HIV in organ donors prior to transplanting as a general rule.

Posted by jhell | January 8, 2008 10:24 AM

i'm remembering that is used to be that if your infection was too recent, a test wouldn't be able to detect it. that was years ago. is it still true?

Posted by ellarosa | January 8, 2008 10:32 AM

Pretty sure that the US already bans tissue from high-risk groups, including sperm samples.

Posted by Greg | January 8, 2008 10:32 AM
I agree that an out-an-out ban on gay organ donors—or blood donors—is a blunt instrument.

Thing is, it's not an out-and-out ban on gay organ donors. It's an out-and-out band on gay male organ donors. Lesbians are still in the game.

Which I think distinguishes the policy from a homophobic or anti-gay policy generally.

Posted by Judah | January 8, 2008 10:33 AM

Is there a shortage of organ donors in Canada? I guess we progressive Americans have one up on those God-less Socialist Homo-equalizing Canadians. One can be an organ donor and gay in America, no one asks; yet.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | January 8, 2008 10:35 AM

I saw this on CBC last night. They had the head of organ donation at a Toronto hospital on, and he was quite against the ban because around 7% of organ donors are gay men. Taking 7 out of every 100 donors out of the pool is a huge change, especially when dealing with transplants, rejection rates, etc.

They do test organs and blood for HIV, but the results may not be accurate if the donor was infected three weeks before death.

That said, this is a top-down change coming not from the medical community, but from the conservative Harper government which is always looking for ways to marginalize and stigmatize gay Canadians.

Posted by Original Andrew | January 8, 2008 10:45 AM

What do you mean, "we have to do something"? I'm a gay man in the sixth year of a monogamous relationship. My friends all practice safe sex. What more am I supposed do?

I can't take any ownership of promiscuous behavior; I wouldn't know what to do with it.

Posted by mattymatt | January 8, 2008 10:46 AM

@9 - From the article:

Levy estimates that out of 100 organ donors at his Toronto hospital every year, about seven will be rejected because of the new regulations. About 4,000 Canadians are waiting for an organ transplant.

I would hazard a guess that every year a lot of Canadians died waiting for secondhand organs.

I can see where Health Canada is coming from, but the seemingly lack of consultation with any major transplant programs before they made the regulation is somewhat disconcerting to say the least.

Posted by MH | January 8, 2008 10:53 AM

This ban doesn't cover closet cases, of course, who may be more risky than out gay men.

Posted by Greg | January 8, 2008 11:04 AM

Yes, there is a huge shortage of organs around the world and here too.
Organ donations are all about statistics and removing groups that are statistically high risk. So if you have a problem with that then look to the statistical reasons why gay men are more high risk than lesbian women. I might also add that straight men who have been in prison can't be organ donors either. Statistically, they are more likely to have transmittable disease. In addition to testing blood, a survey is used because sometimes blood tests will come back negative when a person has the disease.
Finally, it does happen and people sometimes do get diseases from transplants.

Posted by D. | January 8, 2008 11:11 AM

"We'll be asking about things like travel, history of infectious disease… [Family members of the donor] are also asked about the donor's sexual orientation. The donor will be excluded if the donor is a man who had sex with another man in the previous five years.

Because you see, the thing is, we Canadians never ever lie. If Peter's mom says his sweet darling had never been sodomized in the last five years, then rest assured his butt hole had only been a one-way exit.

I'm now puzzled by how on earth are they going to execute the policy.

Posted by MH | January 8, 2008 11:21 AM


I don't have hiv or hep and have been in a monogamous relationship for a decade without any STIs.

I'll keep my blood and organs.

If drop dead you can't have them.

Good luck!

Posted by patrick | January 8, 2008 11:24 AM

"And I don’t think medical organizations seeking blood and organs for desperately ill patients are tossing gay men’s out for the shits and giggles of it all."

But this is not being done by a medical organization, as such, it's being done by Health Canada, the government's health ministry. The ministry is led by conservative Tony Clement under uber-conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper, both of whom have faced great international condemnation for their insensitivity towards AIDS issues. And, of course, neither is much of a friend to the homos. This is as much about throwing political red meat to Canadian Conservatives as it is about any perceived public health risk.

Posted by mason | January 8, 2008 11:30 AM

@11 & 16: And I have nearly 12 years in a monogamous relationship. I go to a gay doctor who takes a detailed sexual history as part of every checkup and ran all sorts of STD tests the first couple of years to be safe. Nothing has ever turned up positive.

My problem with this policy is that you can't earn your way off the banned list. Once you've had sex with a man, so sorry: you are too risky.

Tell me, would you rather receive blood tomorrow from one of us in a monogamous relationship, or from the woman in yesterday's "Savage Love Letter of the Day"?

Posted by Mike | January 8, 2008 11:32 AM

So, this is a little off topic, but can someone explain to me why I, a gay male American, can still donate my organs when I die, but I've never been able to donate blood because I'm a gay man? I tried several times in college and after college, but then they'd always get to the question: "Are you gay? And have you had sex with another man since the mid 1970s?" Here I'd try to crack a joke and say that I wasn't even alive in the mid 1970s, but I'd answer truthfully (hell, my boyfriend and I in college would go together to these things). But, in America, if taking my blood would constitute such a health risk, why won't they just go the extra step (like Canada) and refuse my organs as well?

Posted by James | January 8, 2008 11:35 AM

Future gays are so lucky.

Posted by monkey | January 8, 2008 11:40 AM

I understand Mike (#19).

It is stupid to try to categorize behavior and create public policy around it. The skank in many of Dan's columns get to pollute everything just because they don't confess to having sex with people of the same sex.

How do they know at the Red Cross and the organ farm who the homosexuals are?

I was asked the question at Red Cross years ago when trying to donate and after I was turned down, I have always wondered why I confessed. If I don't disclose, how do they know I am one of the undesired?

Is Dan advocating that we go back into the closet in order to be treated fairly? He seems to want to make it the responsibility of gay men to stop spreading STIs, not the duty of blood/tissue collectors to find a way to screen all donations - no matter who is infected.

Posted by patrick | January 8, 2008 11:50 AM

glad that you have no problem with this new policy dan, but the fact is that a lot of gay men DO consider this discrimination. It doesn't punish the behavior, it punishes the individual. believe it or not, gay men CAN be in monogamous relationships. and there's no reason for them to be penalized because other gay men engage in risky behavior. i wish the US would re-address their discriminatory policy on blood donation as well.

Posted by joey | January 8, 2008 11:50 AM

I would ask people to take a look at the total list of reasons for dontation deferral. There is quite a bit more to it than just male homosexual behavior:,1082,0_557_,00.html

Especially the section on travel and country of origin. Those categories of people are much larger than the total US gay population.

Posted by Graham | January 8, 2008 12:06 PM

1. Lying during the survey - Well, you sign a document saying you are telling the truth. If anything goes wrong, you could be held liable.

2. Why can you donate organs but not blood? - Again, it's all about statistics. Blood donation centers can get plenty of blood without having to solicit gay males, men who've been in prison, or people who've had sex with Africans (why hasn't anyone objected to that), etc.

Eligible organ donors are harder to come by most likely because the way you die and your age directly affect whether or not you'll be able to donate. So you have a smaller population of possible donors.

Posted by D. | January 8, 2008 12:22 PM


Because they need organs more than they need blood?

Posted by keshmeshi | January 8, 2008 12:24 PM

In terms of risk factors, Canada's probably doing the right thing, as unpopular as that might be to say.

At least there you can get health care coverage - and your gay spouse can too.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 8, 2008 12:24 PM

What Patrick @ 16 said. I gave blood regularly until gay men were prohibited from doing so. My partner and I have been monogamous for over 20 years and neither of us has ever had an STD. I am a universal donor (O negative), and whenever I see there is a shortage of O- blood (happens all the time), I hope some bigoted jackass dies on the operating table begging for a pint of my precious blood. Fuck you Red Cross.

Posted by o neg | January 8, 2008 1:30 PM

Wouldn't a better policy be to ask, "How many sexual partners have you had in the past 5 years?" One could then run the statistics for number of sexual partners/risk of STIs to determine the risk level. After determining an acceptable risk level, you can exclude those with unacceptably risky patterns of sexual behavior. This catches both the woman in the letter yesterday and the promiscuous gay man, and limits the "blunt instrument" problem. The only reason I can see for using the group identity criteria is because it is easier to exclude stigmatized groups (e.g., gay men, former prisoners) than to ask everyone to answer uncomfortable questions.

Posted by DP | January 8, 2008 1:51 PM


Just so that you're aware. The FDA sets the regulations on who can or can not donate blood. Not the blood banks.

And additionally, the Red Cross does not collect blood in the Seattle area. So your angst is misdirected, especially so if you live in the 206.

Posted by Graham | January 8, 2008 2:08 PM

@MattyMatt #11

LOL thanks for posting that video on your site with the newscasters dancing. That made my day.

Posted by Peter | January 8, 2008 2:29 PM

Yes, I'm sure you could re-arrange the process with several different combinations of statistics but you have to have data to back them up. I really don't know what the data is for number of partners as opposed to gay men.

In reference to blood, the whole point is to have a donor base that is just the right size. Where you have enough people who can and will donate, but not so much that you end up wasting blood. Donation centers usually want only a 3 day supply.

A good example is mad cow disease. If you lived in Britain in the 80's and early 90's you are ineligible. But you have to think that this restriction has very little effect on donation. How many British blood donors are there?

If gay men were 90% of the population, eliminating them as donors would have an enormous effect on supply. If that were the case, I'm sure they would probe deeper and start asking more specific questions about safe sex, multiple partners, etc.

Posted by D. | January 8, 2008 3:25 PM

As someone 'sort of' in the biz, I thought this was hilarious:

"1. Lying during the survey - Well, you sign a document saying you are telling the truth. If anything goes wrong, you could be held liable."

You're usually DEAD when your organs get donated, so unless they dig up your corpse and piss on it, you're scott free.

As for all the guys in 150 year-long exquisitely monogamous relationships - well, I guess we should just take your word for it, shouldn't we? Look, people lie about their sexual habits ALL THE TIME. They lie to their partners. They lie to themselves. They'll lie on dumbfuck surveys.

None of these precautions is supposed to be a guarantee. Rather, each precaution is a 'bozo filter' to weed out more and more liars and narcisscists as you go down the list. Since people often tend to lie by dismissing their behavior ("he only came a little") the epidemiologists counter it by adding hyperbole ("even ONE time!").

And, of course, much of this has to do with medical liability (less of an issue in Canada but still present). If you're involved in performing a transplant and little Timmy gets HIV and drags you to court - well, it has to be somebody's fault, right? The guy who gave the organ can't be punished. And, OF COURSE, someone has to lose their job, their savings, and the career they sacrificed their 20's for. We all know that's how these things work. Are you really surprised people are overly cautious?

Posted by WH | January 8, 2008 4:54 PM

@16, 28. That's pretty ugly. Are you public health experts? Do you believe that gay people should not be treated differently by the health community as a demographic? Let's just stop all those free condoms and HIV education then, shall we?

Up here in Canada, my gay friends never complain when they get to get all the fancy tests and vaccines free because they are gay. (ie. in university there was something going around...what was it? I forget. Anyway, I got a vaccine free because I worked with HIV/Aids patients who would be harmed if I got it and spread it to them, and my gay best friend got it free, because he has sex with other men).

If health canada implemented this, then it was simply due to a cost/benefit analysis, purely numbers.

If Harper did it, then fuck it- it probably is homophobe garbage.

Posted by ams | January 8, 2008 9:23 PM

Oh, and my sister isn't allowed to give blood because she has spent too much time in the UK.
She did not say, "well then, you can all just drop dead"

Posted by ams | January 8, 2008 9:26 PM

WH, do you even read comments that are not your own. There was quite a discussion about donating blood which is where someone spoke of lying on the survey. Get with it.

Posted by D. | January 9, 2008 2:25 PM

No, D., I don't read all the comments. I just look for the stupid ones and respond to those.

Posted by WH | January 9, 2008 6:59 PM

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