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Health group urges B.C. to ban private plasma clinics

British Columbia Health Minister Terry Lake, shown in this August 2016 file photo, says the province relies on paid donations to meet patients’ needs.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

British Columbia's government is under pressure to join Ontario and Quebec and prevent clinics that pay for blood products from launching new operations in the province.

Only government intervention can ban the private plasma clinics from opening and draining the supply of blood at volunteer donor clinics, NDP health critic Judy Darcy said Tuesday.

"What we're raising here, which the World Health Organization has said for years, is we need to move quickly toward a 100 per cent voluntary system," she said. "This government is moving in the opposite direction."

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Ms. Darcy was joined at the legislature by members of the B.C. Health Coalition who collected more than 6,000 signatures on a petition calling for an immediate ban on the pay-for-plasma clinics.

Health Minister Terry Lake said he was not aware of any imminent arrival of a private plasma clinic, adding more than 80 per cent of B.C.'s current supply of plasma arrives from private facilities in the United States.

He did not appear convinced by arguments that private facilities will harm B.C. patients. Mr. Lake said the government is more concerned with providing reliable blood services to patients than becoming embroiled in an ideological debate about who supplies blood products.

"Without paid donations, paid plasma, we would not be able to meet the needs of Canadians and British Columbians," he said.

"That's our No. 1 concern – making sure we can provide these life-saving plasma proteins for people."

Outside the legislature, Andrew Cumming, a hemophiliac who contracted hepatitis C and HIV from tainted blood, said paying people for plasma leads to concerns about the safety of the products. He said people who are in need of money could be tempted to lie about their health.

Mr. Cumming said it would likely shock most Canadians to discover there are few jurisdictions in Canada that prevent paying for blood and plasma.

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"We don't pay for kidneys," he said. "We don't pay for sperm. We don't pay for ova. We don't pay for corneas. We're not allowed to pay for any of these things. Why would you mix the profit motive with the procurement of tissue?"

Mr. Cumming is a co-founder of Ontario-based BloodWatch.org, a group lobbying against paid blood services clinics.

Barzin Bahardoust, chief executive officer of Canadian Plasma Resources, said the private company is considering opening a clinic in B.C., but has no firm plans to do so at the moment.

He said the company has a clinic in Saskatoon.

Ms. Darcy introduced a private member's bill last year in the legislature seeking to ban companies from compensating donors for plasma, the straw-coloured liquid part of blood used for various medical treatments.

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