Earlier this week, the CEO of Canadian Blood Services, an organization born in the aftermath of the tainted blood scandal that claimed thousands of lives and cost billions in financial settlements, mused about increasing the country's plasma supply by, just maybe, compensating blood donors. You know, blood for cash.
That's a door that must be shut, firmly, and locked. If the Krever judicial inquiry taught us anything it's this: don't mess with the precautionary principles that must underpin the blood system.
There are many things in life that should be paid for. You'll probably get a better meal at a restaurant that trades dinner for payment; you'll probably get better car service from a mechanic who wants to be compensated. But paying for blood engages some problematic incentives. Offering money for blood encourages potential donors who need the money to lie or to omit disclosing risk factors.
That's what often happens in the handful of countries where pay is the norm – the United States being the leading example – and where exploiting the poor, desperate and addicted has become a well-established business model. It's even exportable. A private Canadian plasma collector reportedly eyed locations near homeless shelters and methadone clinics in Ontario before the province gave it a firm no in 2014.
That said, these outfits exist for a reason. Plasma is used in a broad range of increasingly popular and costly pharmaceutical products to treat everything from immune disorders to Alzheimer's. Stated plainly, it's a growth area and more Canadian companies are getting involved – there's always been money in blood.
Part of the problem is that only two of 10 provinces have specifically forbidden paying for plasma. In Saskatchewan, plasma can get you $25 gift cards from at least one clinic.
CBS currently collects some plasma, and buys the rest. The argument is that building a robust, homegrown plasma stockpile is preferable to relying on products from the U.S. That's an excellent objective – but CBS should try to reach it the old-fashioned way, via public appeals and marketing campaigns. The Canadian Blood Services slogan is "It's in you to give." That's give, not sell.