British Columbia

Pay-for-plasma system looming in B.C.

Canada is one of the world's top users of processed plasma products from other countries and Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR), a private company that just opened its doors in Saskatoon, wants to further develop plasma production in this country.

Company Canadian Plasma Resources says no chance business would privatize blood donations

Blood plasma can be donated once a week. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters)

B.C. could soon have a clinic that would pay clients to donate their plasma.

Canada is one of the world's top users of processed plasma products from other countries and Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR), a private company that just opened its doors in Saskatoon, wants to further develop plasma production in this country, even though in Canada it is prohibited to sell blood, organs, tissue, sperm, eggs or embryos. 

"B.C. is top of our list … expanding in B.C. is very critical for CPR and we are hoping to do that in the next two years," said CEO Dr. Barzin Bahardoust.

Activists bristle at the advertisements in university bathrooms that urge students to give plasma. (Bloodwatch)

"I think there is a fear that this would lead to privatization of Canadian blood services which is absolutely untrue. What we are doing is complementary. We are not licensed to collect blood."

B.C. is top of our list.- Barzin Bahardoust, CEO of Canadian Plasma Resources

Bahardoust is working hard to pry open minds around the plasma-for-pay model that exists in the U.S. where posters are pinned up in university washrooms and donors collect cash in exchange for their body fluids. Canadian donors get a $25 gift card per donation in Saskatoon.

Bahardoust says safety issues are overblown and the blood donor base would not be impacted.

In the U.S. plasma donation helps some students through school, and payment is sometimes delivered via specialized credit cards. (S&MJAdventures/Flickr)

Blood donors typically donate twice a year, while plasma donors can donate once a week, but the process is more complex and takes three times longer than a simple blood draw.

"There is no concern about the safety if regulations are followed," Bahardoust says.

Despite these assurances, a move toward pay-for-plasma is facing opposition from the BC Chapter of the Canadian Hemophilia Society and others who decry it as dangerous and wrong to tamper with Canada's voluntary blood/tissue donor model.

Safety fears

"Don't worry is not a plan … [pay-for-plasma clinics] continue to target homeless shelters and methdone clinics," said Michael McCarthy, a tainted blood survivor and former vice president of the Canadian Hemophilia Society. He was recently in Ottawa to lobby the federal government to ban pay-for-plasma clinics.

"Health Minister Jane Philpott keeps saying that the screening methods used are stringent. That's not true. Private blood brokers have no oversight — none. Not in the U.S. and not here," said Kat Lanteigne of Blood Watch, an activist organization fighting the Iranian company's move into Canada.

While activists say privatizing body fluid collection flies in the face of everything that was learned during Canada's tainted blood scandal, industry experts say safety is not an issues with plasma as the fluid collected is tested, processed and not used for direct transfusions.

Safety aside, others point to the slippery slope of getting into a trade in human materials.

"This is our public blood system that is being privatized for personal profits. It needs to be known that none of that plasma collected by CPR can be used for Canadians — it is for export only," said Lateigne.

Sale of human material prohibited in Canada

So far CPR is simply stockpiling the donations as they do not have a buyer. Many other countries ban the sale of human material. Quebec has forbidden the sale of human blood or plasma, and Ontario recently prohibited paying blood or plasma donors.

CPR wants to open two more Canadian clinics by the end of 2016 — and another ten by 2020.

B.C. is "top of the list" for locations across Canada but CPR has not formally applied to Health Canada for a license yet.


Yvette Brend

CBC journalist

Yvette Brend works in Vancouver on all CBC platforms. Her investigative work has spanned floods, fires, cryptocurrency deaths, police shootings and infection control in hospitals. “My husband came home a stranger,” an intimate look at PTSD, won CBC's first Jack Webster City Mike Award. Got a tip?