Mexico, in a first for any North American country, has repealed its blanket ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, but when will the rest of the world follow?
The repeal, which was passed in August 2012 but came into effect on Christmas day, sees Mexico bring its blood donation regulations into line with current nondiscrimination provisions and human rights laws.
Concern had been raised over the fact that the previous rules had meant that any and all men who in the past had had a sexual encounter with another man (termed men who have sex with men or MSM) were de facto banned.
The new rules make clear that sexual orientation will not be a barrier to blood donation, with risk factors associated with certain practices and conditions being the focus.
The new rule bans people with hepatitis or HIV and their partners from donating blood. Similarly, people who engage in what are termed ”risky sexual practices” will also be banned, this term being defined as ”contact or exchange of blood, sexual secretions or other bodily secretions between someone who might have a transmittable disease and areas of another person’s body through which an infectious agent might be able to penetrate.”
This would shift the focus from same-sex sexual activity to certain types of high-risk unprotected sexual activity, a distinction which will allow many gay and bisexual men the chance to contribute to blood supplies.
In making these discriminatory distinctions, the [previous] norm explicitly violated the prohibition against discrimination present in the Constitution and the Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination, as well as Article 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 26 of the International Civil and Political Rights Treaty, among other international instruments of law, which establish that every person is equal before the law regardless of any condition.
The logic of the previous ban, like most other blanket bans in this area, never really stood up to scrutiny.
Effectively, a blanket ban on all MSM treats homosexuality as though it were a high risk activity in and of itself. It takes into account nothing of the protection used, the kind of practices that have been engaged in and whether the individual in question is in a monogamous relationship, all of which are factors that, when stacked right, dramatically cut infection risk.
Furthermore, and to prove the point that such bans are blindly discriminatory, heterosexual men (and women for that matter) are in no way subjected to this kind of treatment despite how “risky” their behavior may have been.
While many nations have realized two things, that a blanket ban is discriminatory and unsupportable, and that blood reserves are constantly low and that all new sources should be considered, they have approached the issue very differently.
The UK, for example, repealed its blanket ban last year, instead instituting a one year deferral period meaning that so long as MSM have not engaged in sex for the past year, they will be eligible. The move was immediately attacked as the dodgy compromise that it is because it still fails to examine the prejudice at the heart of the ban and makes no attempt to shift the focus from sexuality to sexual practices.
The Canadian Blood Service, seeming to follow the UK, has published notice that it intends to amend its blanket ban to a deferral period of between 5-10 years, though commentators have similarly assailed the plans as putting stigma over scientific facts about the health risks.
While Mexico may be the first nation in North America to repeal its ban, Argentina has worked toward doing the same with legislation that was passed by Argentina’s lower chamber due to be examined in Argentina’s Senate over the next few months.
The United States instituted a ban on MSM donating blood in 1977, a ban that a U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) committee, despite a wealth of evidence saying that there is minimum risk to blood supplies in repealing the blanket ban in favor of risk-factor controls, voted to keep the ban in 2010, advice the FDA, which regulates blood supply, continues to follow.
However, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry recently attempted a new push to amend America’s blanket ban.
It remains unclear whether such a push would be able to gain momentum, and so for the time being the United States, like many other countries, continues its antiquated practice of treating homosexual relationships as though they are inherently diseased.
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