Bioethics Blogs

After Plasma: Are Blood Stem Cells Next?

Jason Behrmann and Vardit Ravitsky argue that payment for plasma could lead to the commodification of bone-marrow stem cells in a way that could compromise certain values underlying Canadian healthcare

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Donated human materials, such as organs, stem cells, blood and gametes, have tremendous potential to improve and save lives; unfortunately, these benefits are limited by their scarcity. An aging population will further increase the demand for these materials, highlighting the necessity to implement novel strategies to encourage donation. Increasing scarcity also means that Canadian society must now address tough questions regarding the long-upheld value of altruistic donation for human materials.

Recent attempts by a Canadian company to pay people for their plasma seemingly thwart this value (for discussion on this, see here, here, and here). From a corporate point of view, such explicit financial incentives might be a viable strategy to secure an adequate supply of plasma ‘donors’ for the production of essential blood products. At a time when regulations for monetary incentives for donation are hotly debated and with a chain of private-for-profit plasma collection facilities still battling with government regulators on the legality of their business model, health officials should question whether additional human materials might soon be procured for purchase.

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However, the ‘blood-for-pay’ model runs counter to Canada’s long tradition of an altruistic ‘gift relationship’ between donors and blood-collection agencies for whole blood, as well as legislation that forbids payment for organs or assisted reproduction services (sperm/egg donation and surrogacy). Some question whether payment for plasma in Canada has marked an unwanted precedence in commodifying the human body and whether it “nibbl[es] away” at altruistic donation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.