First, a declaration of experience. I worked for several years as a negotiator for the Canadian Red Cross in after federal and provincial decided to shift responsibility for blood donations to new agencies.
That experience led me to work with many wonderful people whose lives were turned upside down by having received tainted blood. The Red Cross had to learn many difficult, painful lessons from mistakes made.
Canada is now at risk of throwing these lessons out the window. Private clinics, which would pay people for blood donations which would then be used to make plasma for sale around the world, have applied for licences from both the federal government and the government of Ontario.
Things should never have gone this far. Hema-Quebec, the provincial agency that took over from the Red Cross in that province, has made it clear it wants nothing to do with “pay for blood” schemes. Canadian Blood Services has also come out against it. The World Health Organization and the Federal Drug Administration have both said they want to move to “donation only” as their standard by 2020.
Those countries that have allowed “pay for plasma” schemes are regretting the decision. The reason is simple, and is based on practical evidence. These clinics typically rely on people who need the money. There is every reason to question the safety of the supply. Just as important, paying some people depletes the pool of potential donors, particularly among younger people who blood agencies around the world are trying to recruit to give blood as volunteers.
For whatever reason, it’s taking federal and provincial governments a long time to make up their minds. It shouldn’t. The integrity of the blood supply, and our continuing resolve to keep a strong volunteer base, should make the answer simple: no to “pay for blood or plasma”. Period.