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November 12, 2005

Deaf told they can’t give blood

From: Peterborough Examiner, Canada - Nov 12, 2005

Woman plans to file human rights complaint


Examiner Staff Writer

Lois Buckley isn’t allowed to donate blood because she’s deaf.

The 41-year-old city mother has faced discrimination, but she finds this latest obstacle shocking.

Canadian Blood Services won’t allow people to donate blood if they need an interpreter to answer personal questions such as past sexual activity, high-risk behaviour and whether they have tattoos or piercings, said Ron Vezina, media relations director.

There’s a risk the person may fudge their answers to the nurse out of embarrassment of having that third person in the room, Vezina said.

That also goes for people who need an interpreter because they don’t speak English or French, he said.

Getting honest feedback is critical to maintain a healthy blood supply, he said.

It could also be a violation of privacy and confidentiality, he said, to answer such questions with someone else there.

But in the end, he said, it’s a Health Canada rule the organization must follow.

Buckley, who is also an American Sign Language instructor, said this doesn’t make sense and plans to put up a fight.

She has an appointment Wednesday to donate blood.

If refused, she said she’ll file a human rights complaint.

“I think if more people in the deaf community were aware of this policy, they’d be infuriated too,” the Parkhill Road East resident said through an interpreter.

She said she uses an interpreter in every facet of her life because her first language is sign language, not English.

The policy is shocking because interpreters are used in other areas where sensitive information is disclosed, said Maggie Doherty-Gilbert, Peterborough regional director of the Canadian Hearing Society.

“In every day of the week and within every hour of the day in our community, there are interpreters in doctor’s offices and courts,” she said, adding there are hundreds of people who use interpreters throughout the Peterborough and Durham region.

Peterborough Regional Health Centre has embraced the issue, she said, and immediately gets interpreters for deaf patients.

Interpreters aren’t just anybody off the street which someone would be embarrassed around, she said.

The Ontario Interpreter Service requires interpreters to attend a college program, write tests and be re-tested every few years, she said.

Interpreters could lose their job if they breached confidentiality, Doherty-Gilbert said.

While she said she’s shocked and outraged, the next step is to meet with the roughly 50 deaf Peterborough residents and see if they’d like to take action.

Meanwhile, Vezina said he has never heard of this policy ever causing controversy.

Interpreters may be used in hospitals, Vezina said, but that’s different: if someone lies to a doctor, their lives could be at risk.

Critics may argue that even if a person lied about health questions, the blood is tested before used.

But he said there’s the risk a person is infected and hasn’t yet started producing antibodies.

“In the last few years, technology has closed the window from when a person is infected to when they produce antibodies,” Vezina said. “But there’s still a window.”

It’s commendable for anyone to want to donate blood, he said, and it’s ironic they’re turning away donors when the agency constantly needs more blood.

But they ultimately serve that man on the operating table or that woman undergoing cancer treatment. “As we say around here, it’s a right to receive blood and a privilege to give it,” Vezina said.

© 2005 Peterborough Examiner