Blood Money

Kat Lanteigne argues that there are no good reasons for Canadians to be in the business of buying and selling blood.

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Plasma.  Such a tiny word and yet it has caused extraordinary controversy. Who ever thought that this precious part of our blood would be the focal point of so much unrest and carry with it such a complicated history.

Plasma is the liquid gold of our blood.  Like any precious resource, it is widely sought and now more so than ever, we need to protect it.

Provincial Health Minister, Deb Matthews, has announced that Ontario will ban the sale of blood and plasma. She has spent the last year working on the blood file and has rightly come to the conclusion that we must protect our voluntary blood donation system.  The planned regulatory steps and legislative measures are a diligent response to an urgent situation. A private company, Canadian Plasma Resources, has attempted to bully its way into our blood system. The company has already spent 7 million dollars, and set-up three of their proposed ten clinics, without approaching the province prior to completing this investment. Health Canada has known of these plans since 2009 and yet has taken no action to question (let alone curtail) these endeavours.

The question we should all be asking ourselves isn’t whether we should champion the sale of body parts in our country, but rather how is it possible that a private company intent on challenging the well-entrenched voluntary blood donor system can get so far along in its planning without first obtaining the requisite licenses from the federal or provincial governments? Did they think that no one would notice, or, that if anyone did notice, they would not object?

Contrary to what many have suggested, we do not have a shortage of plasma in Canada. In fact, in April 2012, Canadian Blood Services closed a plasma clinic in Thunder Bay because of decreased demand for plasma for transfusion. Further, if and when we do need more plasma – for domestic use, or to contribute to the world supply used to make plasma derived medications – there is reason to have this be the sole responsibility of Canadian Blood Services.  They are competent (and can be trusted) to oversee the collection, testing and distribution of plasma.

Canadians endured tragic consequences when the Red Cross and Health Canada notoriously mismanaged our blood system in the 1980’s and 1990’s. As a direct consequence of inertia, greed, and cost-cutting measures, 30,000 Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through domestic plasma and imported plasma products from the US.  As well, at the time there was a pervasive lack of ethics, political will and decisive leadership. As a result of this, thousands of Canadian families were devastated by the consequences of tainted blood.

We have absolutely no need for a privatized for-profit blood collection system in our country – none. Much progress has been made in the twenty years since the Krever Inquiry into the tainted blood scandal, but we don’t know what the next blood-borne pathogen will be. Moreover, while science has made significant advances (for example, the creation of synthetic blood clotting products to replace certain plasma-based products), there is an increasing need for vigilance when profit-making motivates decision-making.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is advocating an end to paid blood donations by 2020. Deb Matthews and the province of Ontario are demonstrating leadership and executive knowledge in making the decision to legally prohibit payment for blood and plasma.  Paying for blood and plasma is not the right path to self-sufficiency.  This only puts these vital public health resources in the hands of blood-brokers interested in profiting from a lucrative business resulting from the commodification of body parts.

Canadian donors diligently and with great pride give blood and plasma and in so doing demonstrate a strong commitment to helping save the lives of fellow Canadians. This is a value not only worth defending, but also worth celebrating.

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Kat Lanteigne is a writer and public healthcare advocate. Her play Tainted chronicles the impact of the tainted blood crisis on Canadian families @jimmydelaco.

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