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Canada Bans Sexually Active Gay Men as Organ Donors

Some patients in need of critical organs may be out of luck because of a discriminatory ban put in place by Health Canada that mirrors the restrictions placed on gay men from giving blood. The regulation, which went into effect in December, bars organ harvesting from gay men who were sexually active.

OrgandonationThe Toronto Star reports: "The regulation, which took effect in December and closely resembles blood-donor guidelines, prohibits organ donations from sexually active gay men, intravenous drug users and hepatitis victims. Both strictures are unfair to thousands of conscientious gays, says Dr. Philip Berger, head of family and community medicine at St. Michael's Hospital. 'What about a gay monogamous couple, (Health Canada) is not going to let them donate? It's ridiculous,' says Berger. 'It's been known for 20 years that the risk factor is not in being gay (but) in risky sexual behaviour.' Berger says 'it's what the individual does in their sexual lives, whether gay or straight, (that) puts them at risk. To exclude bona fide donors because they've had sex with another man ... would exclude a lot of people who are no risk at all. Zero risk.' Berger says the 'unreasonable' restriction is bound to reduce the supply of transplant organs at a time when the need is growing more urgent."

Dr. Gary Levy, head of Canada's largest organ transplant program, told the paper that the new regulation simply "formalizes" precautions that have been in place for many years. He said that transplant surgeons "will continue to make the final decision on which organs are suitable for use."


The paper adds: "Under the new regulation, however, surgeons will have to sign a form stating they authorized the use of an organ that would normally be excluded. In the vast majority of organ donation cases, sexual history is assessed through interviews with relatives of the deceased. Even if a donor card has been signed, the family or the courts must give permission for harvesting in Ontario, Levy says. But Berger says the Health Canada regulation is fundamentally flawed because the organ harvesting system depends entirely on the goodwill and honesty of donors or their families. He adds that current HIV screening tests can confirm the infection-free status of donated organs rapidly and with virtual certainty. The only risk would come from donors in the 'so-called window period when they've been recently infected,' Berger says, calling that an 'infinitesimal' worry. However, Levy says HIV can incubate for 20 days or more before becoming detectable."

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  1. Couldn't a simple blood test clear up whether or not a person (gay or straight) was infected before using their organs? Or would it take too long?

    Posted by: Michael W. | Jan 9, 2008 9:36:29 AM

  2. That's really fucked up.
    Don't sexually active straight people get HIV ???????????

    Some REAL stupidity going on here.

    Posted by: Mike | Jan 9, 2008 9:59:47 AM

  3. How disappointing. Perhaps Canada isn't the great bastion of liberalism and open-mindedness that they claim it to be.

    Posted by: JOHN | Jan 9, 2008 10:21:24 AM

  4. Even more stupid is the risk of the thousands of "straight" men who LIE about their sexual activities.

    Posted by: FizziekruntNT | Jan 9, 2008 10:39:57 AM

  5. Blame Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party.
    He tried to take away our right to get married, he had to do something else to satisfy his religious supporters.
    It's sad to think that people will die because he won't let us donate our organs.

    Posted by: Jeffrey | Jan 9, 2008 10:47:50 AM

  6. It's like the Red Cross' abhorrent policy down here.

    I started giving blood when I was 16 but stopped at 19 when I finally came out and acknowledged that I as a man who has had sex with a man could never give blood.

    Right now, that's almost 20 years of not giving blood when I was otherwise eligible. And the last 12 years I've been in a monogamous relationship though that doesn't matter to them.

    Posted by: Rey | Jan 9, 2008 10:56:23 AM

  7. I wonder how someone who needs an organ transplant feels about their fate being determined by someone elses fear and ignorance. Ask someone who is on Dialysis and has 6 months to live if they care who their donor slept with or didn't sleep with.
    I'm sure there are alot of deserving people out there who, if given a choice, wouldn't have a problem accepting someones gay organs.

    Posted by: JJ | Jan 9, 2008 11:15:11 AM

  8. It's not about Stephen Harper's Conservatives, it's about bureaucratic inertia. These decisions are not made at the ministerial level. We have the same fucked up policy as the USA re: blood donation, for example, which has been in place for years, even before the new Conservative Party existed. An anti-gay policy that went unchanged throughout the 12 years the Liberals were in power.

    People who hated the old Tory/Progressive Conservative Party may reflect on its repeal of the ban on gays in the military, its extension of the vote to women and Indians, its appointment of the first woman and first black Cabinet members, its first woman Prime Minister, its decades-long fight against apartheid, etc.

    Posted by: Clay | Jan 9, 2008 11:25:49 AM

  9. As someone who takes care of HIV patients and transplant recipients with infectious diseases, I've been interested to see what would happen in the wake of the four Chicago transplant recipients who were infected with HIV and hepatitis C at the end of 2007. The organ donor in that case was most likely infected with HIV within the couple of weeks prior to his/her death.

    Right after someone is infected with HIV, there's a "window" period where antibodies will be negative, but the "viral load" - the amount of the virus you can see in the blood - is unmistakably high. Time is of the essence for transplant cases, but a viral load test (available for hepatitis C, too, incidentally) can be done in a matter of a few hours. If the virus was detected, anti-HIV medicines could be started immediately in the transplant recipient and *potentially* prevent infection.

    To the best of my understanding, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) - the agency that maintains wait lists and coordinates transplants - has not adopted the use of very sensitive nucleic acid tests (the viral load) to screen for HIV, instead of antibodies.

    This decision by the Canadian government (and UNOS) is sad and reflects just plain bad science.

    Posted by: Christopher | Jan 9, 2008 11:29:45 AM

  10. If I was dying, and desperately needed a Transplant...I'd take one from whoever...even if it meant can live with HIV, you CAN'T live with DEATH!

    Posted by: Disgusted american | Jan 9, 2008 12:22:06 PM

  11. As a kidney transplant recipient and a gay man, I find this news truly disturbing. That they would broadly exclude any viable organ donors while so many of us wait for a life saving transplant is simply ridiculous.

    Posted by: Ken | Jan 9, 2008 12:25:42 PM

  12. This is largely a cost savings procedure after a number of tainted organ and blood product scandals in Europe. A lot of organs need to be implanted within a couple hours, making these tests impractical with surgical teams waiting on the recipient--and if the test comes back positive they have to do the surgeries all over again. It's cheaper to avoid the surgery in the first place.

    Posted by: anon ( | Jan 9, 2008 4:25:03 PM

  13. The issue of medical liability is a huge one. Sadly, it often doesn't matter if the patient says he or she is willing to take the risk of HIV exposure. Once the patient is dead, the family has the right to pursue legal action against the entire transplant team , EVEN IF the risks were clearly explained to the patient. This includes the hospital that harvested the organ and the one that did the surgery (quite often more than one hospital is involved). Generally, such suits are brought by attorneys and families who want to pressure the hospital(s) to settle out of court to avoid the negative publicity and cost of a full-on court battle.

    Hospitals face an organ pool with a fair numbers of donors who quite simply lie about their social behaviors, and a public that will not tolerate any risk at all when it comes to patient care. The end result is that is cheaper and safer for the hospitals to let patients die waiting for organs than to save lives by, yes, taking a chance here and there even with the patient's full consent.

    Posted by: Zlexar | Jan 10, 2008 8:01:07 AM

  14. I am a Canadian living with HIV for over 22 years. My husband is hiv-.

    While I do not agree with legislation in it's entirity I do agree with it's intent to prevent the spread of HIV by screening for high risk behaviours.

    The legislation screens for men who have had sex with men in the previous five years ... this includes gay men, bisexual men and men who have sex with men who identify as 'straight' ... the media have described this as gay men and intentionally (or not) added to the controversy and the confusion.

    Unfortunatly, the flaw is that the legislation doesn't just screen for high risk behaviours, it actually attempts to prevent organ donations from the participants of high risk behaviours. Although, in interviews that I have heard some doctors have said that this is simply a tool ... there is much more that goes on in determining the suitability of a potential donor.

    CBC Radio interviewed a 47 year old woman who 'dabbled' in intravenous drug use for four months when she was 16 years old. She has been prevented from donating blood for years, and could be screened out from donating organs under the new legislation.

    On a personal note, the legislation does not just apply to anonymous donors ... it also applies to family members who may be a match for a family member. Under this legislation, if my sister-in-law needed a transplant, her brother, my husband (hiv-), who is a match could be screened out because of our relationship.

    The legislation also prevents persons who have been incarcerated in the prison system from donating ... my sister-in-law's son is in prison and would likely also be screened out.

    Don't get me wrong I am not defending the legislation, it IS flawed and wrong. I wanted to clear up some misinformation.

    Posted by: Joseph | Jan 10, 2008 9:32:16 AM

  15. WTF?!
    I'm a 22 year old Canadian guy who doesn't sleep around(1 guy in the last 6 months) and when I do have sex I protect myself... WTF Canada? I could not give blood and now my perfect organs(never smoked, never did drugs, rarely drink alcool) are not good enough for Canadians in need? WTF...

    Posted by: Andros | Jan 10, 2008 4:37:32 PM

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