July 26th, 2017

Give blood, don’t sell it

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on March 17, 2017.

“It’s in you to give.”

That’s how the Canadian Blood Service appeals to blood donors, unsung heroes for so many Canadians.

Almost everybody who’s had surgery has been given a blood transfusion – or had safe, tested blood on standby if required. To state the obvious, that’s a life-and-death safeguard.

That’s why it’s so important that Albertans continue to donate their blood when they’re healthy. In Lethbridge, the blood service has a convenient downtown facility for donations . . . then juice and cookies after the donation is received.

That’s the kind of approach that’s worked for many, many years – and it’s saved countless lives. But now it’s being threatened.

Some provinces have given a green light to American-style businesses that will buy Canadian blood and send it south to create a valuable resale product, plasma. That’s become a big business in areas of the U.S., where some low-income people sell their blood time and again.

One result of that, as already seen in a handful of Canadian cities, is a corresponding drop in the number of donors to Canadian Blood Services. Another result, even more odious, is the real danger of disease being spread by desperate individuals who should never donate. When blood products become a kind of retail commodity, who knows how well the private operators collect, test and store their merchandise?

Canadians already know how vitally important it is that the highest safety standards be enforced when it comes to blood and other human tissue. The highly regarded Red Cross blood service faltered in the 1980s, leading to illness and death – and a nationwide inquiry. In its aftermath, a new blood agency was given the responsibility.

While blood donations have been a part of life in Canada for many generations, we’re seeing many more hearts, kidneys and other essential organs donated as well. Our current approach to soliciting and then receiving those organs leaves much to be desired – far more donations are needed – but it’s based on the same principle: donation for humanitarian reasons, not for cash.

In keeping with Canada’s universal health-care system, the donated organs are then transplanted into patients on the basis of their health issues, not the size of their pocketbook.

That’s long been the way our blood system works, and new legislation recently introduced by the provincial government will safeguard it. It’s Bill 3 in the new legislative session, and it follows the example set by Ontario and Quebec. It would ban payment for blood collected, a well as advertising aimed at people willing to sell.

“Donating blood should not be viewed as a business venture, but as a public resource that saves lives,” Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said while introducing the bill.

Allowing a blood money approach could lead to the fragmentation of Canada’s national blood supply, she warned.

The Canadian Blood Service, meanwhile, reports it is working to secure a greater supply of made-in-Canada plasma. That would reduce its reliance on U.S. suppliers. Perhaps there’s a role for government there, just as there was when a Canadian agency was one of the world’s major suppliers of insulin.

Both of those steps are commendable. Our blood supply is too vital to be allowed to become a commercial enterprise, like tummy tucks and hair transplants.

Blood truly is yours “to give,” not to sell.

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