Bioethics Blogs

A Reflection on Blood Donation Policy in Canada

Landon J. Getz reflects on the current sexual abstention period within Canada for blood donations by men who have sex with men.


Driving through Halifax during pride week, I noticed a Pride advertisement on the back of a city bus. It noted a headline from a Global News article titled: Canada’s limitations on gay blood donations ‘ridiculous’: HIV researchers. Currently, in Canada, men who have sex with men are prohibited from donating blood if they have had sex with a man in the year prior to their donation. Even though many LGBTQ advocates and HIV researchers are saying this deferral period on blood donation by men who have had sex with men is ‘ridiculous,’ Canadian Blood Services and Health Canada do not seem to agree. Approximately one year ago, the current 1-year deferral period policy replaced a 5-year deferral period. The anniversary of this policy change marks an opportunity to reflect on Canada’s blood donation policy and what it means for the LGBTQ community.

Historically, bans, deferral periods, and restrictions on blood donation by gay/bisexual men have been rooted in fear of harming patients by exposing them to contaminated blood. HIV was discovered in 1983, and from there new methods of diagnosis were discovered. Unfortunately, this did not stop HIV-infected blood from entering the blood supply, leading to what is known today as the “Tainted Blood Scandal.” Consequently, roughly 2000 Canadians were exposed to HIV via blood products in the early 1980s. However, a lack of policy and proper diagnostic testing procedures played important roles in this problem.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.