UCP MLA’s private member’s bill aims to lift Alberta’s ban on private sale of blood products

A private member’s bill set to be tabled in the legislature is aiming to repeal Alberta’s ban on the private sale and purchase of blood products.

The Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act is planned to be introduced by Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo UCP MLA Tany Yao.

The legislation would repeal the law that is currently in place, which was introduced by the former NDP government in 2017.

“Bringing in a private company to create competition with the public system that is already working to create that capacity, and giving it to a private company then who will take that product and may never actually bring it back to Canada, that isn’t a solution to the problem,” NDP health critic David Shepherd said.

According to the Opposition NDP, the Voluntary Blood Donation Act was passed in response to private blood buyers exploring Alberta as a location to open a pay-for-plasma clinic.

Plasma is the liquid component of blood. It is donated in a similar fashion to blood but the process takes a little longer.

Canadian Blood Services, the not-for-profit agency that oversees the country’s blood and plasma supply, would not comment on the legislation before it is tabled.

However, the organization said that it will be monitoring the legislation closely, and expects to be consulted by the Alberta government and health minister on matters related to the national blood system in Canada.

According to the Canadian Blood Services website, the organization only meets between 13 and 14 per cent of the need for plasma and demand is on the rise.

David Page, national director of health policy at the Canadian Hemophilia Society, said that pay-for-plasma is essential to meet demand.

“For some people, an incentive of being altruistic is enough, but it’s not enough for enough people in terms of plasma,” Page said. “We’d love to have everybody donating freely without compensation, if that were possible, but it’s not.”

To help meet demand, Canadian Blood Services said it purchases other plasma protein products on the international market that are not made from Canadian plasma, a practice similar to other countries around the world.

“To further clarify, we do not purchase raw plasma from commercial collectors,” Canadian Blood Services said in a statement. “We purchase finished medications, like immunoglobulin, made from plasma.”

According to David Clement with the Consumer Choice Centre, Canada imports more than 80 per cent of plasma treatments from the United States, which operates with a pay-for-plasma system.

“From our perspective, this is an appropriate decision for the government of Alberta to proceed with,” Clement said. “When the NDP prohibited paying donors for blood plasma, they only did that provincially, they didn’t prohibit the import of blood plasma from the United States, where donors are paid.”

However, there are some concerns over safety after the tainted blood scandal in the 1980s.

The scandal saw thousands of patients infected after receiving blood contaminated with HIV and Hepatitis C.

The Krever inquiry, which was conducted in the scandal’s aftermath, recommended Canada stay away from a paid donor model.

“One of the concerns that these entities had was that if you’re paying donors, they may feel induced to donate blood in a manner that may put themselves at risk, for example donating more often than is safe,” said Dr. Lorian Hardcastle, a medical law expert with the University of Calgary’s faculty of law and Cumming School of Medicine.

According to Hardcastle, the World Health Organization also made a declaration in 2009 that said blood donations should be voluntary.

Although he understands the concerns around safety due to the blood tainting scadal, Page said that there are proper testing measures in place today to avoid such an incident from repeating itself.

“There were a lot of problems to come from that, but things have changed,” Page said. “We had the Krever commission make recommendations, and it’s not the same world as it was in 1982.”

Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have private blood-purchasing locations, and Manitoba has a single paid-donation centre for rare blood types that began prior to the Krever inquiry.

The only provinces with bans on the purchase of blood products still in effect in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

According to the UCP caucus, Yao was unable to comment on the bill on Thursday.

There is no word on when the legislation will be tabled, but it is expected during this session.

–With files from Global News’ Julia Wong

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