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'Felt like a slap': Family says man's tissue donation rejected on basis of sexual orientation

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"It was so important to him…To be told that his body was denied because of his sexual orientation. Really, it was like a visceral reaction. You just feel like you've been slapped."

Cindy Gates-Dee, the mother of Liam Dee, told CTV's Your Morning how a policy by Health Canada prompted her to file a claim with the Human Rights Commission.

Dee, 26, died from a rare form of cancer in November and wanted his tissues to be donated. His family says a policy discriminating against his sexual orientation prevented his loved ones from following suit on his wish.

"On the paperwork, it describes the reason for deferral as high-risk behaviour, sex high risk, patient had husband, high likelihood of sex with another man within the past five years," Jacob MacDonald, Dee's husband, told CTV's Your Morning on Friday. "I find that quite offensive, just to be calling someone's entire sexual identity 'high risk.'"

According to Gates-Dee and MacDonald, neither were asked questions about Dee's lifestyle to determine whether he was at an increased risk of HIV or hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

"These policies are very stigmatized," MacDonald said. "It's discriminatory."

Health Canada is responsible for enforcing regulations on human cells, tissues and organs for transplantation. Potential donors must be assessed to ensure they will not be transmitting any infectious diseases to recipients.

These policies of any high-risk behaviour "are not intended to be discriminatory against specific groups," Health Canada said in an emailed response to the Canadian Press previously.

"Health Canada will engage the CSA technical committee in 2023 to discuss the potential for changes to the (men who have sex with men) donor screening criteria."

In an email statement to CTVNews.ca, Health Canada said the organization is “committed to reviewing the CTO Regulations so that they continue to reflect the latest scientific and technical advances in the field of transplantation of donated cells, tissues and organs. We are also committed to supporting donation policies in Canada that are non-discriminatory and scientifically based.”

Health Canada further explained that all potential donors are required to undergo a donor suitability assessment, including physical examinations and screening.

“This is done to mitigate the risk of infectious disease transmission through the transplantation of donated cells, tissues and organs and determine if they are safe for transplantation.”

Health Canada added that screening measures are “not intended to be discriminatory against specific groups.”

The screening criteria, Health Canada explained, is established based on input from experts in the field of cell, tissue and organ donation, and uses a “consensus driven process.”

To ensure other families don't go through the same thing, Gates-Dee and MacDonald filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

"We're not too far into that process," Gates-Dee said. "So we're waiting to see where it's going to go from here."

For MacDonald, the regulation change could mean he could donate his organs and tissues too, which is something he says is important. But for him and Gates-Dee, the complaint is about honouring Dee's memory.

"I want that to be Liam's legacy, for us to be able to enact change here and have this issue rectified," MacDonald said. "So that other people can leave their legacy as well and help other people."

To hear the full interview click the video at the top of this article. 

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