Lorne Neudorf is one of 100 gay men who signed up to be a stem cell donor with Canadian Blood Services under the agency’s recently revised policy. (Dec. 7, 2009)
Gay men win stem cell fight
December 08, 2009
Having lost a relative to Canada’s tainted blood scandal, Lorne Neudorf understands the importance of a safe blood supply. He hopes a recently revised Canadian Blood Services policy, allowing gay men to register to donate stem cells, will change how all blood and blood product donations are handled.
“We no longer have the justification to exclude an entire subset of the population based on the myth that by somehow excluding men who have sex with men we eliminate the chance of HIV/AIDS transmission in the blood supply,” said Neudorf, 27, who recently began the process of joining the network of potential stem cell donors.
In October, the CBS began allowing men who sleep with men to join their 250,000 strong Canadian donor pool for stem cell donations. In the past, that admission would be an immediate disqualifier, as it is for gay men who wish to give blood.
Jennifer Philippe, director of the CBS’s OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network, said about 100 men who would have previously been rejected have registered.
“What other registries are doing is by defaulting and not allowing these valuable donors to join they are really limiting the options available to the patient,” said Philippe.
Blood tests are conducted to rule out HIV or any other infectious diseases, but Phillipe said that no screening test offers 100 per cent assurance. CBS does “testing that is down to the RNA level, so detection of a virus is very, very good.”
Neudorf, who filed a human rights complaint against the CBS when he was rejected for blood donation in British Columbia in 2006, said testing is so advanced that sexual orientation in and of itself is not a logical disqualifier for blood donation.
Neudorf calls the move a good start and said he understands the need to be thorough. A member of his extended family died after receiving tainted blood, one of tens of thousands who Canadians who contracted Hepatitis C and HIV through exposure to tainted blood and blood products in the 1980s.
Philippe said the rules were not changed sooner because prior to revised Health Canada guidelines, updated in 2008, the CBS’s only option was to apply the rules for blood donation for stem cell donors.
The new Health Canada guidelines apply to cells, tissues and organs, not blood or blood products.
Philippe said that matches are extremely difficult to find for the 800 Canadians waiting for a donor. Neudorf hopes the changes to stem cell donation will lead CBS to review how they deal with blood.
“We can’t base the criteria on these myths, we need to base it on scientific fact.”