Humanists should stand up to pay-for-plasma moral challenge

Last month, news broke that Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR) is looking to expand its private plasma collection services to British Columbia. CPR, who currently operate a clinic in Saskatoon, gives $25 to each plasma donor.

As Humanists who value reason and compassion, we have a duty to explore the ethical issues surrounding issues in the public debate.

BC Minister of Health Terry Lake suggested that there's nothing inherently wrong with such a system. In an editorial in the Vancouver Sun, Lake says:

There has been much discussion recently across Canada, and in B.C., about pay-for-plasma clinics. Our primary concern is for patients. We need a safe, adequate supply of this essential medical product, which saves people’s lives every day. As Health Minister I want to reassure British Columbians that safety is always our No 1 consideration in collecting and supplying any medical products.

...if a company wants to come to British Columbia and employ British Columbians and collect plasma products from British Columbia residents, we don’t see anything inherently wrong with that, as long as the quality and safety provisions are in place.

Alberta commentator (and atheist) Rob Breakenridge agrees. In the Calgary Herald he says:

Far from banning such clinics in Alberta, we should welcome them. [Alberta Health Minister Sarah] Hoffman needs to listen less to ideological groups such as Friends of Medicare and more so to the experts who have actually studied the matter.

This form of plasma collection is safe and badly needed. Those opposed need to explain why they’re comfortable with reduced access to these therapies, and why they’re content to accept plasma from paid donors in other countries. It would be rather unfortunate if the latter group included Alberta’s health minister.

However, Kat Lanteigne, who co-founded a campaign to uphold the recommendations of the report on Canada's tainted blood scandal, is more concerned. She wrote in a separate Vancouver Sun editorial:

There has been a boom of paid plasma clinics in America where they collect from vulnerable people who are desperate to supplement their income. Plasma is literally being farmed off of the veins of the poor.

Only four countries in the world allow paid plasma collection and in recent years Germany has had to compete to secure donors into their voluntary system. Public health agencies around the world, including the WHO and the International Federation of the Red Cross, are working to end all paid plasma because it is a scientific fact that voluntary donations are safer and that mass exploitation of humans for their body parts has compounded consequences.

And her organization has produced a video to highlight the risks.

They've also launched a federal e-Petition opposing pay-for-plasma schemes. The petition is sponsored by Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies and has already surpassed the necessary 500 signatures to be tabled in Parliament.

My personal opinion is that there are serious risks and ethical dangers posed by any scheme that pays people for bodily fluids. We don't permit people to sell their organs, blood or even their semen or eggs in Canada, why should blood plasma be any different?

Lake's remarks about the more rigorous safety standards completely dodge the ethical questions raised by this pay-for-plasma scheme. In the wake of the Truth & Reconciliation Report's findings that Canada has perpetuated a cultural genocide against indigenous peoples and so many groups are still be marginalized, our society should not be so haphazardly opening the door to further exploitation.

We clearly have a supply issue though. Canada's blood plasma supply is insufficient for our demand and by importing plasma from the US, we are tacitly condoning the pay-for-plasma schemes that rule there. So keeping pay-for-plasma clinics out of BC isn't enough. Those of us who are eligible and able to donate need to step up and begin regularly donating blood plasma.

We can't let this be one more burden to fall on the disadvantaged and marginalized classes.

The BC Humanist Association is a Partner for Life with Canadian Blood Services and we organize regular Adopt-A-Clinic blood drives (the next is on May 14). I strongly encourage everyone who is able to take part and to donate blood. But going beyond that, individuals are also able to donate plasma as frequently as every seven days.

You have to book a separate appointment to donate plasma. Simply call 1-888-2DONATE and book an appointment at any of Canadian Blood Services permanent locations (like their clinic on Oak Street in Vancouver).

Doing so can help make the pay-for-plasma debate irrelevant.

This blog was the personal opinion of Ian Bushfield. Image via

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