Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's about the behaviour, not the orientation!

Last week I was so mad I could have spit. I probably did when my jaw dropped open in stunned reaction to the belated news that Health Canada had released new standards for organ donation in December. The department announced that, among other things, men who have had sex with another man within the past five years will not be considered as organ donors!

Did I just wake up in 1988? Are we still having this conversation? In the early dark days of the AIDS epidemic gay men were the primary figures in that war. As the epidemic cuts a swath of death across the world, we now know that it is not sexual orientation that makes a person an HIV carrier or more susceptible. It is a person's behaviour that makes them at risk for HIV and AIDS, not their sexual orientation!

Behaviours such as promiscuous and/or unprotected sexual activity and shared needles; behaviours about things that we don’t talk about in ‘polite’ society. The HIV virus loves our shame and our dark secrets, our extra-marital philandering, our little junk habit, our secret thrill of riding ‘bare-back’. Meanwhile, all gay men are once again being singled out by preposterously archaic assumptions in poorly written medical guidelines.

The reaction has been vocal, swift, and broad-based. Most transplant units across Canada have announced that despite these new guidelines, they will continue to assess organ donations based on behavioural risk-assessment guidelines. Given the ever-increasing shortage of organs needed for transplants, Health Canada should have given this issue more thought. Shame on them.

Toronto Sun - Letter of the Day by Ontario Minister of Health, George Smitherman
Toronto Star - "Most gays ruled out as organ donors"
Globe & Mail - "New organ donation rules don't exclude gay men"
CBC News - "Sexually active gay men no longer allowed to donate organs"
CBC, This Hour Has 22 Minutes for a refreshingly satiric perspective on Health Canada's guidelines [This Week's Video Highlights > select Jan 15 > scroll down and click on "Organ Donor Policy"]

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