Alberta bill proposes ban on for-profit plasma clinics

Canadian Blood Services faces challenge going into Easter weekend

The Alberta government introduced legislation Monday to ban private, for-profit clinics that pay people for plasma donations.

Alberta doesn't have any private plasma clinics but the government says it is only a matter of time before the industry looks to this province.

"Blood should not go to the highest bidder,"  said Health Minister Sarah Hoffman. "It should go to the patient who needs that blood the most."

Canadian Plasma Resources has been operating in Saskatoon for a year and the Alberta government believes the company intends to expand across Canada.

Officials say the paid plasma clinic in Saskatoon has discouraged people from voluntarily giving blood.

That has created worries about what will happen to the Canadian blood supply if private plasma clinics expand across the country.

Private companies are under no obligation to keep their plasma in Canada and can sell their supply to the international market.

Ontario and Quebec have already enacted legislation banning clinics that pay donors for plasma.

Penalties under Bill 3, introduced by Hoffman Monday, are $100,000 a day for any corporation found guilty of a first offence, ramping up to $500,000 a day for subsequent offences.

The bill has fines for individuals caught paying others for plasma, but there are no penalties for donors.

A desire for Canada to get more of its plasma domestically is behind the push to keep the country's blood supply reliant on volunteers who donate to Canadian Blood Services.

Canada buys 83 per cent of its plasma from an international market. Last year, Alberta spent $200 million on blood and blood products. Plasma accounted for 60 per cent of that amount.

Plasma is used in drug products to treat hemophilia and immune disorders, as well as drugs to help transplant patients.

Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Starke, the party's health critic, said it is misleading for the government to suggest blood from private clinics is less safe, since the supply is regulated by Health Canada.

Starke said he suspects the NDP is proposing the ban in a bid to preserve unionized jobs. He said the move will force private companies that want to set up for-profit plasma collection sites to do so in other provinces. 

"By passing this legislation, this government is sending those jobs elsewhere," he said. "This government is telling Albertans that it's OK to buy plasma products from paid donors in other jurisdictions, and to me that's simply not acceptable."