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At age 18, Ciaran Dickson decided to become an organ donor; but nearly two months ago, that choice was stripped away from him in a controversial decision by Health Canada.

The new policy which went into effect Dec.7, 2007 bars injection drug users, gay men who have been sexually active in the past five years, and other groups considered “high risk” from donating organs.

At age 18, Ciaran Dickson decided to become an organ donor; but nearly two months ago, that choice was stripped away from him in a controversial decision by Health Canada. 

The new policy which went into effect Dec.7, 2007 bars injection drug users, gay men who have been sexually active in the past five years, and other groups considered “high risk” from donating organs.

Dickson, a gay man, feels the ruling is unwarranted.

“People need organs, I don’t see why excluding people based on their sexual orientation is necessary,” he said. 

The reasoning behind Health Canada’s new policy is the same that applied to blood donors: to reduce the risk of transplanting organs with HIV, hepatitis, or other diseases.  In 2003 the Canadian Standards Association was contracted to come up with a standardized set of guidelines to determine the suitability of organ donors.  This process, called donor screening is used to determine high-risk behaviours related to the transmission of diseases. 

According to Health Canada, high-risk behaviours include the use of non-medical intravenous drugs, incarceration for a period longer than 72 consecutive hours in the last year, participation in prostitution in the last five years, any form of body piercings or tattoos where the possibility of shared instruments is present, and sexual activity between two men.

“If an organ is healthy it shouldn’t matter who it came from” said Dickson, “I think if they are going to question people’s sexual orientation and history they should question everyone."

A Health Canada spokeswoman recently told the media that the safety of the cells, tissues and organs intended for transplant is crucial; these regulations are based on risk for safety purposes and not lifestyle choices. 

However, Kathleen King, a 21- year- old nursing student believes that the policy is discriminatory. “If they’re worried about an organ having HIV, they should improve the screening process, because a straight female can have HIV too.” 

Dickson agrees. “I know a lot of females who have had anal sex and a lot of guys who have had anal sex with girls,” he said “they should up the standards they use to test organs.”

In the past, transplant programs screened all potential donors, and were able to use the organs high-risk groups if the organ tested negative for disease. Under the new policy, organs will not be considered for transplant unless the potential recipient consents to their use.

King agrees that the exception to the rule is necessary. “If I were dying and needed an organ, I would take an organ even if it had a slightly higher chance of having a disease, rather than die from not having that organ.”

Dickson feels that the newly imposed restrictions on organ donors are a “pretty big step backwards for gay men.”

 (Photo by Ciaran Dickson)

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