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January 10, 2008

Doc Challenges Canadian Law Banning Gay Men From Donating Organs

A prominent Toronto AIDS doctor has spoken out against a Canadian regulation that bans most gay men from donating their organs, reports the Toronto Star (, 1/9).

Dr. Philip Berger, head of family and community medicine at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, says that the regulation, which took effect in December, is scientifically unjustified, virtually impossible to enforce and could worsen the shortage of critical transplant organs.

“It’s been known for 20 years that the risk factor [for being HIV positive] is not in being gay [but] in [engaging in] risky sexual behavior,” said Dr. Berger. “To exclude bona fide donors because they’ve had sex with another man...would exclude a lot of people who are no risk at all. Zero risk.”

The regulation, similar to blood-donor restrictions, prohibits organ donations from sexually active gay men, people with hepatitis and intravenous-drug users.

In most organ donation cases, according to the Star, the deceased donor’s sexual history is assessed through interviews with his or her relatives. Dr. Berger says that this is flawed because it depends too heavily on the statements of donors or their families. He says that current HIV screening tests, instead, could be used to confirm that donated organs are infection-free.

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