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Editorial: Keep blood donations voluntary

Canadian Blood Services fears that if domestic production isn’t boosted by commercial suppliers, we may fall short in the years ahead.
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Canadian Blood Services is looking at using a private company to collect blood plasma, a decision our editorial says is regrettable. DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canadian Blood Services says it is looking for a private company to assist in collecting blood plasma. This is, in every respect, a regrettable decision.

Blood plasma is a straw-coloured fluid that makes up roughly half of whole blood. It is used to treat a number of health conditions, including liver disease and hemophilia.

Plasma is collected by passing blood through a fractionating machine. The process is safe and takes only minutes longer than a regular blood donation. The unused portions of the blood are returned to the donor.

In the past Canadian Blood Services has resisted turning to the private sector, in part because the companies who manufacture this product pay donors for their plasma. That is contrary to everything our blood collection service stands for.

It has long been the policy in Canada that blood donation, and by extension plasma donation, should be voluntary, relying on the public spirit and generosity of donors.

In the U.S., where plasma donors are paid, it has become a common practice to see homeless Americans lining up to make money by donating. Rates vary, but plasma donors can make between $30 and $60 per session, and may be able to go twice a week.

Apart from the moral issues involved, there is the very real concern that if Canadians are paid for plasma, voluntary donations of whole blood may drop off.

The reason Canadian Blood Services has taken this step is that currently it can produce only about 15 per cent of the plasma required, at centres like the one in Kelowna. The rest is purchased abroad, much of it in the U.S.

New collection centres are being constructed, but even then it won’t be possible to raise the domestic supply to the 50 per cent target believed to be the minimum safe amount.

Part of the problem is that the demand for plasma is rapidly increasing across the globe. Canadian Blood Services fears that if domestic production isn’t boosted by commercial suppliers, we may fall short in the years ahead.

It’s true that some provinces, including Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Manitoba, permit private companies to operate and pay donors. But to date, the quantities collected are small. There have also been allegations that some of these firms are selling Canadian plasma abroad.

It’s clear that Canadian Blood Services is taking this step unwillingly. Yet what else can it do?

The provinces, who fund Canadian Blood Services, have refused to back domestic production of plasma at the level required.

This, then, is not a matter of choice. It is a matter of necessity, forced by short-sighted government penny-pinching that will tarnish one of the principles of our health care system, that it is publicly funded and operated.

Our own B.C. government is a key actor here. In the past it has resisted any thought of paying for donations.

There is the additional aspect that some of the companies Canadian Blood Services may be negotiating with are non-unionized. How will that play with an NDP administration?

Everyone understands the enormous pressures our provincial governments are under to maintain their health-care systems. There is never enough money to go around.

But the issue here cannot be rendered in mere dollars. It goes to the kind of people we believe ourselves to be.

Do we really want the Americanization of our blood service? Surely not.

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: letters@timescolonist.com