Plasma or Blood

As of September 11th, 2022, the rules for plasma donation have changed for gay, bisexual and queer men.

What’s changed is this: more gay, bi and queer men will be eligible to donate plasma, or whole blood, at Canadian Blood Services locations across Canada. These are the new questions, that will be asked of everyone who comes in to donate

  1. In the last three months, have you had a new sexual partner?
  2. In the last three months, have you had multiple sexual partners?

If the answer is “yes” to either question, then the screener (usually a registered nurse) who speaks to you privately in a screening booth, will ask this follow up question:

 

In the last three months, have you had anal sex with any partner?

**Note: you need to also meet all other eligibility criteria.

You can check out Canadian Blood Services website for info about this change here.

BE AWARE!

Héma Québec (the organization that takes plasma donations in Québec) and private plasma collection centres (such as Canadian Plasma Resources) have different eligibility criteria than Canadian Blood Services. If you plan to donate in one of these places, we strongly suggest that you follow up with these organizations about eligibility requirements.

At the time of writing, Canadian Plasma Resources does not allow guys to donate plasma unless it had been twelve months or longer since they had sex with a man.  Héma Quebec is in the process of changing their donation rules, for both blood and plasma. We encourage you to check their website for up to date information.

Watch our video for a quick overview of the new rules around plasma donation for gay, bi, and queer men, or keep reading below.

Sexual-Based Behaviour Criteria (aka the big change in eligibility rules)

In December 2021, Canadian Blood Services applied to Health Canada to make the next step towards fairer screening – Sexual Behaviour-Based screening, or SBB. In the application, Canadian Blood Services asked to remove the questions in the donor questionnaire about sex between men and replace them with specific sexual behaviour questions. These questions would be asked of all donors, regardless of gender or sexuality. 

In practice, what this change means, is that all donors, regardless of gender or sexuality, are asked the following questions, on the screening questionnaire that you fill out on a tablet:

  1. In the last three months, have you had a new sexual partner?
  2. In the last three months, have you had multiple sexual partners?

If the answer is “yes” to either question, then the screener (usually a registered nurse) who speaks to you privately in a screening booth, will ask this follow up question:

In the last three months, have you had anal sex with any partner?

Only those who have not had anal sex with a new or multiple partners in the last three months will be eligible to donate blood or plasma. This includes both receptive and insertive anal sex (hover over: aka top and bottom), regardless of condom use.

There was a lot of excitement about this change. The media have called it the “end of the blood ban”.

These new rules are a huge step in the right direction, and more guys will be able to donate. BUT, and it’s a big but, many sexually active gay, bi and other men who have sex with men will still not be able to donate. Guys who are non-monogamous, poly, or who simply enjoy sex with different partners [link to: FAQs – Why aren’t men in exclusive relationships with more than 1 person (e.g., throuples or other forms of polyfidelity) eligible?] are still excluded. Guys who take PrEP or PEP are still excluded. There is still a lot of work to be done before policies are truly equitable. Have a look here [link to: About the Blood Ban – Going Forward and Advocacy – “Equity for All Donors”] to read more about this policy change, and criticism.

Eligibility Assessment

There are lots of reasons someone might be unable to donate, not just because of who they love. If you have any questions about your eligibility, Canadian Blood Services has a helpline and an online chat where Canadian Blood Services staff can help you determine your eligibility:
  • Call Canadian Blood Services’ helpline at 1-888-2-DONATE (1-888-236-6283) (note that the helpline is NOT anonymous)
  • Use Canadian Blood Services’ online chat function if you have any questions.
You can also check all the screening questions that Canadian Blood Services uses here. Some examples of reasons that people may not be able to donate include:
  • Hemoglobin levels being too low
  • Getting a tattoo or piercing within the last 3 months
  • Having gone to the dentist earlier that day
People are not able to donate for lots of reasons, so other donors shouldn’t find it unusual when someone does not make it through screening.

Eligibility Requirements that
Everyone Gets Checked at the Donor Centre

The research team checked with staff at Canadian Blood Services about what gets checked on the day of a donation at the centre (there is no way to assess most of these things beforehand). 

Below, we’ve pulled together some other specific eligibility requirements and screening practices that you might have wondered about.

1.
Vein access: In the screening room, a staff person will inspect your arms to ensure easy  access to your veins in order to safely take your plasma donation.
2.
Weight: Some potential donors who are underweight are not able to donate that day because donating could pose a health hazard.
3.
Low hemoglobin levels: Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen from our lungs to the cells in our body. Low hemoglobin levels can mean you are not eligible to donate that day. For more information about hemoglobin, see here.
4.
Tolerance of the procedure: For a small number of people who are otherwise eligible to donate, the process of plasma donation itself can lead to reactions (for example, fainting) that may mean the donation is paused or stopped on that occasion. Staff regularly check in to make sure you’re alright when donating, especially as source plasma donations take longer than blood donations and the donation is sizable. If you’re concerned about other potential side effects of plasma donation, we’ve provided more information on our How to Give Plasma page.