David Clement writes about why the Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act will allow Alberta to stop paying for paid donations from the United States.
Alberta’s United Conservative Party is proposing a new way to help supply hospitals with much-needed blood plasma therapies, and it would mean letting Albertans receive cash for their donations.
MLA Tany Yao will introduce a bill that would repeal the former government’s Voluntary Blood Donations Act. This would allow for blood plasma donors in Alberta to be compensated for their donations, which the NDP previously made illegal. While this might sound like an obscure policy for most, it is incredibly important that Alberta continues down this path and legalizes compensation for plasma donors.
Blood plasma is a valuable resource used to create medicines that treat burns, help those with immune deficiencies, coagulation disorders and respiratory diseases. Unfortunately, Canada does not collect enough plasma to meet our domestic need for plasma therapies. That’s why for years, we have imported these medicines from the United States. More than 80 per cent of these therapies come from south of the border, where plasma donors are compensated for their donations.
That fact alone makes the NDP’s Voluntary Blood Donations Act a farce, and one worthy of repeal.
Critics of paid plasma argue that compensating donors increases risks and is less safe than voluntary donations. We know that this isn’t true, and can’t be true, because Canada relies on paid plasma donors for their medicines – they just happen to be American instead of Canadian. If compensating donors was really unsafe and risky, we wouldn’t be so comfortable importing these medicines from our American friends. There is also no data to support the claim that paid plasma is risky. There has not been a single instance of viral or bacterial transmission from plasma products since modern processing practices were implemented over 25 years ago. That is exactly why Canadian Blood Services CEO Graham Sher said the following about the existence of a paid plasma sector.
“I certainly need to be very clear that we don’t believe the existence of a paid plasma sector is a safety threat to product or to patients and I don’t think there is data or evidence to support that.”
Critics also posit that compensating donors for their time is exploitation, and that “blood brokers” will be praying on vulnerable citizens. This also doesn’t pass the smell test, because if it were true, critics such as the NDP, Bloodwatch, and their public-sector union partners would be lobbying for a ban on the import of American-made plasma therapies. They aren’t doing that, and haven’t done that, because they know that such a move would be devastating to the patients who rely on these therapies. Compensating donors for their time simply acknowledges the reality that pure altruism isn’t always enough. There is nothing exploitative about informed, medically screened and healthy adults being compensated for their plasma donations to aid the process of making much-needed plasma therapies for patients.
If the UCP succeeds with legalizing paid plasma collection in Alberta, it can be expected that plasma collection will increase in the province, as it has in other jurisdictions. Czechia for example (formerly known as the Czech Republic) legalized compensation and saw donations increase by 700 per cent. Because of that decision, Czechia is now entirely self-sufficient when it comes to blood plasma collection and doesn’t need imports at all. In fact, the only countries who are self-sufficient for plasma collection are the USA, Germany, Austria and Czechia, and they all allow for donors to be compensated. Anti paid plasma organizations like Bloodwatch have long been calling on Canada to become self-sufficient when it comes to plasma collection, but rebuff the obvious solution. It’s a sad fact that they have actively, and successfully, fought the only proven tool to increase domestic supply.
The need for paid plasma becomes even more necessary in these uncertain times. Just this April, President Donald Trump empowered FEMA to prevent the shipment of essential medical goods into Canada as a response to Covid-19. What if Trump banned the export of plasma therapies into Canada? Stranger things have happened. Would our entirely voluntary public system, which accounts for less than 20 per cent of the supply we need, be able to cover the difference? Our country would be struck by severe medical shortages, and the public system wouldn’t be able to cover the gap. To say that this would be devastating for patients would be an understatement.
Luckily there is a way to help avoid that nightmare scenario. Alberta should follow through with its plan to legalize paid plasma, and other provinces should follow suit. Doing so would put patients over politics, and that is something certainly worth celebrating.
Originally published here.
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