Not all students who want to give blood are allowed
// Liam Park

On an average day, Canadian hospitals need over 900 litres of blood. It is used to help approximately one person every minute of every day in Canada. The shelf life of blood is 42 days, and if donations suddenly stopped, the current stores would be depleted in three days. The Capilano Students’ Union invited Canadian Blood Services onto the campus in order to hold a blood drive on Jan 16.

“[The students] were so bloody stoked!” says Teresa Grant, Capilano’s Social Justice Coordinator. They were turning would-be donors away by 10:30. With more willing donors than available materials to accept donations, Grant foresees a returning blood drive. UBC donates approximately 40 units of blood twice a month and Douglas College does the same once every two months.

“The risk of not getting a blood transfusion when it’s needed is infinitely greater than the risk of infection from receiving one,” states the American Red Cross. While the blood from two donors can see someone through hip replacement surgery, the needs of a car accident victim, according Canadian Blood Services (CBS), could exceed 50 units of blood.

CBS manages the blood supply in all Canadian provinces, excluding Quebec, and recently has been under pressure from activist groups like the Canadian Federation of Students for certain deferral practices. Although the Social Justice Committee ran a dual campaign to inform students about the controversy regarding CBS concurrently with the blood drive, Grant claims to have received an angry letter from a student who felt discriminated against regarding the decision to host CBS on campus.

Between the late 1970s and 1990, due to lax screening processes and less advanced testing methods, many people contracted HIV and thousands more fell victim to Hepatitis C after receiving blood donations. Blood services in Canada at this time were managed by the Red Cross, until a Royal Commission of Inquiry on the blood system in Canada was held.

The CBS was proposed as an arms-length incorporation in order to protect the government from direct involvement, and to protect citizens of Canada from future risks due to the old system (in which the transfusion services reported to the Federal government). Blood test technology continued to improve and screening became more strict. To this day, a would be donor is considered “high-risk” if they have used any needle drugs, lived in any non-Commonwealth countries in Africa since 1977, or suffered from a stroke, malaria, heart disease, syphilis, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (the human form of mad cow), and any man who’s had sex with a man (MSM) are blacklisted for life. The latter category has been particularly controversial.

“We clearly have a situation in which there are chronic blood shortages and we also have a situation in which gay men are totally discriminated against,” according to Dr Mark Wainberg, the head of the HIV program at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital.

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is lobbying to eliminate lifetime bans of MSM from donating blood to CBS through their End the Ban campaign. They suggest that the deferrals go against Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that with the latest technology for blood testing and screened consideration of lifestyle habits, there is no reason not to repeal the rule.

When asked about this testing, a logistics coordinator with CBS explains, “Blood tests are still not 100 per cent [accurate] and that someone who’s HIV positive might not know through a blood test until three to six months afterwards,” despite claims of using the best technology available. The same representative admitted that the lifetime deferral might not be perfect; however, “it’s really all up to Health Canada.”

While unrepresented members of the homosexual student body may still be left feeling upset that they were unable to donate, the diplomatic efforts of Grant and the SJC should be duly noted. Grant wrote a letter and posted it in the Queer Centre, where she addressed the MSM ban.

“I just wanted to ensure you that the Social Justice Committee has this in mind while advocating for issues surrounding blood and that we will be distributing materials with this position,” the letter reads. “Since the Canadian Blood Services is the only organization to legally collect the donation of blood, we felt this demand is something that effects us all so encouraging people to donate who are eligible is still very important. This is why we will try to highlight both sides as best as we can.” No further concerns have been brought to Grant’s attention since the letter was posted.

By the end of the blood drive, 35 people had donated blood at Capilano University, with many students interested in donating in the future. In addition to saving other people’s lives, donating blood has multiple health benefits for the individual donor. Regularly donating blood can help prevent heart attack, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, and has other proven health benefits as well.

//Liam Park, writer
//Graphics by Sarah Taylor

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