MLAs to hear from stakeholders on repeal of paid blood donation ban

Alberta MLAs agreed on Tuesday to hear from stakeholders on a private member's bill that would overturn a ban on paid blood donations enacted by the previous NDP government three years ago. 

UCP MLA argues ban on paid donations hurts domestic plasma supply

The Alberta NDP wants blood donations to stay voluntary. But a UCP MLA argues a ban on paid donations is hurting domestic supply of plasma. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Alberta MLAs agreed on Tuesday to hear from stakeholders on a private member's bill that would overturn a ban on paid blood donations enacted by the previous NDP government three years ago. 

Bill 204, Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act, was introduced in the legislature earlier this month by Tany Yao, the United Conservative MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. 

Like all private member's bills, Yao's legislation was referred for review to the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members' Public Bills. 

Yao faced questions from committee members, including Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, who introduced the bill when she was minister of health. 

In his presentation, Yao argued a repeal of the law would save the domestic supply of blood plasma, which is used both for transfusions, and creation of medications. 

He said Canada only supplies 13.5 per cent of its own plasma, with the remainder being purchased from five countries that allow paid donations like Germany and the United States. 

The domestic supply runs the risk of dropping to under nine per cent by 2024, Yao said. The response to COVID-19 has shown that domestic supplies of products, like masks, can be interrupted by decisions made by other governments, he added. 

"Repeal will protect our domestic supply of plasma," Yao told the committee. "With an ultimate goal of ensuring our patients have a secure and safe domestic supply of these life-saving products." 

Evidence presented to the committee suggested the issue is complicated. 

Yao said patient groups, who depend on life-saving medications made from plasma, want provinces to allow paid donations to increase the supply.

He talked to Canadian Blood Services which he said was "neutral" about his bill and expressed no safety concerns.

Ministry staff told MLAs that Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia — Canada's three most populated provinces — have banned paid blood donations. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick allow them. The remaining provinces have no position, they said. 

One piece of the supply problem is that younger generations don't donate blood the way their parents and grandparents did. 

Canadian Blood Services is trying to increase donations by setting up three pilot sites to collect voluntary plasma donations in Sudbury, Kelowna and Lethbridge. The Alberta site will be open this fall. 

Rakhi Pancholi, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud, said the issue is complex, leaving her with questions. She said she wants to hear from both Canadian Blood Services and patient rights groups. 

"While we hear about a shortage, we don't hear anything about how the changes proposed in this bill are actually going to ensure that there is a greater plasma supply or even businesses operating in Alberta, and I think that has to be our focus," Pancholi said. 

"It strikes me that this is a really national conversation that has to be had."

The committee agreed to hear from stakeholders at the next meeting on July 20.

The UCP and NDP will be allowed to invite three stakeholders each to make presentations and take questions on Bill 204.


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