Posted on Mar 23, 2017

Bill 3: Voluntary Blood Donor

On March 23rd, I rose to speak in favour of Bill 3, the Voluntary Blood Donor Act, which I am proud to co-sponsor.

Ms Babcock: Thank you, Madam Speaker. When I was a nurse working in acute care, we saw people every day who may be in need of a blood transfusion. I never had to fear that the blood my patient needed wouldn’t be there when I went down to the blood bank, and I never had to tell a family that we couldn’t save their loved one because we didn’t have access to blood products needed, thanks to the CBS. 

Blood transfusion is a core service within our health care system, and individuals who donate their blood provide a unique contribu-tion to the health and survival of others. Protecting our voluntary blood donation system is paramount. Albertans will have secure and reliable access to donated blood when they need it most under this proposed legislation. This bill will also prevent Alberta’s voluntary blood donor pool, which Canadian Blood Services relies on, from being depleted. This bill will create a barrier to the establishment of private pay-for-plasma clinics and ensures they will not operate that business in this province. 

Every country faces an ongoing challenge to collect sufficient blood from donors to meet national requirements. The donation of blood by voluntary, unpaid blood donors is recognized as being crucial for the sustainability of national blood supplies, as shown in Saskatchewan, where CBS reported a 14 per cent drop in overall donors in the first year that the paid CPR clinic was open, which especially impacted the youngest generation of donors. 

Internationally there are systems based on replacement donation by family and friends of patients requiring transfusion, which are rarely able to meet clinical demands for their blood. The World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies aim to support national blood donor programs in building a stable base of the best possible blood donors to ensure sufficiency and sustainability of national blood supplies. 

Part of the strategy to accomplish this goal is the formation of the foundation for the establishment of World Blood Donor Day, jointly sponsored by the WHO, the IFRC, the International Federation of Blood Donor Organizations, and the International Society of Blood Transfusion. That day is now celebrated each year throughout the world on June 14 to raise awareness of the importance of blood donation and recognize the contribution of voluntary, unpaid blood donors in saving lives and improving health. Analysis shows that countries with voluntary blood donation instead of just paid have a higher proportion of regular blood donors and that this has been maintained over a number of years. 

Further, in countries where the percentage of voluntary blood donations has risen, there has also been an upward trend in the percentage of regular blood donations. This shows that voluntary blood donors are more likely to donate on a regular basis than any other type of donor. A panel of voluntary donors who donate blood regularly enables blood collection to be planned systematically to meet the requirements for blood by blood groups and components. This enables the blood transfusion service to maintain a constant and reliable supply of blood when required in every clinical setting practising transfusion. One paid donor equals exactly one fewer potential voluntary donor. 

In systems based on voluntary blood donation, patients have improved access to safe blood transfusion in routine and emergency situations, without which their survival or quality of life may be threatened. The blood and blood products they receive carry a low risk of infection that may further compromise their health. They’re not placed under pressure to find blood donors in order to receive treatment and feel a sense of being cared for by others who they will never meet. In turn, this may motivate the spirit of generosity and a desire for reciprocal volunteering in the future. Madam Speaker, you know that we all see that a little bit when we go to Tim Hortons in the morning and we do a pay-it-forward. It’s the same kind of feeling you get, just a little bigger. 

Voluntary donors are recognized to be motivated by altruism and the desire to help others. As could be the case in a paid plasma scenario, donors are not there because they need the money; therefore, they have no reason to withhold any information about their lifestyles or medical conditions that may make them unsuitable to donate. They are not placed under pressure by hospital staff, family members, or the community to donate blood, and they entrust their blood donations to be used as needed rather than for specific patients. The only reward that they receive is personal satisfaction, self-esteem, and pride. 

In well-organized blood donor programs, voluntary donors, in particular regular donors, are well informed about the donation selection criteria. If they aren’t eligible to donate right now, they’re more likely to make the decision themselves to postpone their donation. That reduces the need for temporary or permanent deferrals. Blood donation is the gift of life that cannot be valued in monetary terms. The commercialization of blood donation is in breach of the fundamental principle of altruism, which voluntary blood donation enshrines.

Voluntary blood donors themselves benefit from health education and encouragement to maintain healthy lifestyles as well as regular health checks and referral for medical care if needed. Provided that they receive good donor care when they donate blood, they often feel personal satisfaction, which provides a sense of social engagement and belonging that is recognized and valued by the community.

Voluntary blood donors serve as effective donor educators, recruiters, and health promoters. I know that the first time I went and donated blood, I was taken by a friend of mine who was a regular donor. Studies have shown that the influence of active blood donors is one of the most effective strategies for donor recruitment. Voluntary donors also play a valuable role as active agents in health promotion. They help us build healthy communities through their influence among their peers and their families. Even donors who are no longer able to donate due to age or medical conditions can still play an important role in promoting voluntary blood donation in their families, workplaces, and communities. In my constituency of Stony Plain there is a family in which three generations are actively donating blood. The matriarch, Mrs. Hennig, has donated well over 800 times in her life. As she says: there is so much blood needed, and we can give the gift of life; it’s gold, liquid gold for people who are in jeopardy of dying.

The commitment and support of the government for an effective national blood program is a prerequisite for the achievement of 100 per cent voluntary blood donation. The community must have confidence in its blood transfusion service. Without trust in its integrity and efficiency and the safety of its procedures, few people would choose to donate their blood. This trust is earned over a long period of time but can be undermined very quickly, resulting in a negative effect on the loyalty and continuing support of individual blood donors, the community, and partner organizations. Canadian Blood Services has earned our trust. Alberta has a long and proud history of support for the blood system. Donating blood is a valuable public resource that should not be a business. Donating blood saves lives.

This is what it comes down to, Madam Speaker. We know that for-profit, paid blood donation drives out voluntary donation, and that’s why this bill is so important. It’s about protecting our blood supply. Voluntary donation means that when you or someone you love needs blood the most, it’ll be there. Voluntary donation means that you know that blood or blood products will be there for you in satisfactory amounts. Voluntary donation saves lives, and it helps to build a culture of trust and community. 

I’d like to also mention, Madam Speaker, that, as we’ve stated numerous times in this debate, this legislation has absolutely no bearing on the ability for private businesses to come into Alberta and be part of the fractionation process or further processing. It will not stop that. We encourage that. I would remind the members opposite also that we did consult with patients. BloodWatch, which is the advocate and watchdog comprised of patients and survivors from the ’80s who support the Krever report’s firm stance that blood and plasma collection remain public, have implored all members of this House to please support this bill.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

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