David R. Henderson  

For a Free Market in Plasma

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Ottawa, Ontario and Washington, D.C. - A group of professional ethicists and economists published an open letter urging provincial governments to reconsider proposals to ban compensation for blood plasma donations. The letter is signed by 26 ethicists and economists, including two Nobel Prize winners (Alvin Roth and Vernon Smith), a recipient of the Order of Canada (Jan Narveson), amongst others.
This is the opening paragraph of today's press release advocating legalizing a market for blood plasma. Georgetown University's Peter Jaworski, one of the signers, asked me to sign because I am both an economist and a Canadian. I did. The actual statement is very well argued.

Some excerpts from the statement:

There is no evidence that compensation for blood plasma donations in, for example, Saskatchewan, the United States, Germany, Austria, Hungary, or the Czech Republic has promoted the view that donors or their blood plasma are regarded as mere commodities. There is as yet no evidence that Saskatchewanians have different attitudes towards their blood plasma than, say, British Columbians currently have.

Everyone involved in blood plasma donation in Canada--the nurses, the doctors, the administrators, the medical scientists, the professors who study the matter, the chief executives of Canadian Blood Services, the manufacturers of plasmapheresis machines, the fractionators, and so on--receives compensation, except the donor. There is no evidence that Canadians regard the services so provided, or the people providing those services, as mere commodities in virtue of the fact that they are financially compensated. For the argument that donor compensation would so promote this view to be compelling, one would need an explanation for why the connection between compensation and commodification applies exclusively to compensating donors, and not to these other forms of compensation. No such explanation has been offered, nor is any apparent or plausible.

All of the signers at the end with little red maple leafs by their name are either Canadian or affiliated with Canadian institutions.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Hans writes:

It is sad to say but these volks
are foolish and ignorant and should
have their metals recalled.

This came to my feeble Head Start mind.

http://healthydebate.ca/2014/04/topic/cost-of-care/paying-plasma

"Canadian Blood Services purchases plasma protein products (PPPs) like IVIG, albumin and various coagulation factors from the United States and Europe. This is because Canada uses a volunteer-only donation system and does not have the donor base to support demand. Canadian Blood Services, and its Québec counterpart Héma-Québec, are non-governmental bodies tasked with safety, procurement and distribution of blood products."

Then a question maybe ask, whom gives more
plasma, red Canadian or blue?

Hazel Meade writes:

There is no evidence that compensation for blood plasma donations ... has promoted the view that donors or their blood plasma are regarded as mere commodities.

I love this line. It turns the tables on the people who are morally outraged by paying for donors by pointing out how insulting their viewpoint is towards those who already do it. Do these people think that medical professionals in Saskaschewan and Germany treat blood donors as subhuman commodities?

David Seltzer writes:

On a macro scale, an NFL player of college professor compensated for their skills in a free market are no more commodities than a fraction of their anatomy. In this case, plasma. If one has dominion and sovereignty over their personhood, they are hardly commodities!

Jacob Egner writes:

This one of the very, very few times I've seen professional ethicists (especially bioethicists) endorse a move in the direction of more individual freedom and less government control. It seems that no matter what, for any innovation or possible future development, professional ethicists will generate mostly calls for government control.

Sincere question: should I change my overall impression of how reliably professional ethicists (especially bioethicists) call for increased government control?

James Pass writes:

I wasn't aware of recent government activity to ban compensation for plasma donations. I wonder what the driving force is - it's hard to believe it's concern about "commodification."

I regularly donate blood, platelets and plasma. I've never thought about looking for compensation, but maybe I should. Why not?

Organ donations are a different matter, but I wonder about the libertarian view on that.

David R Henderson writes:

@James Pass,
I wasn't aware of recent government activity to ban compensation for plasma donations.
Read the whole statement and you will be more aware.

James Pass writes:

Jacob, I think it depends on the bioethicist. There doesn't seem to be any general consensus among bioethicists, as you might find among scientific organizations. For example, you can bet dollars to donuts that a bioethicist's professional position on, say, stem cell research or abortion will coincidentally align with their personal position (including personal views on levels of government control).

As far as I can tell, the best a bioethicist can do is support his position with evidence. As the famous bioethicist Mick Jagger sang, "you can't always get what you want." A good bioethicist has to take practical considerations into account and sometimes there are no perfect solutions. Also, everyone has biases. One of my biases is to minimize government control, and my bias would affect my position on bioethical issues.

James Pass writes:

Mr. Henderson, I did read the entire statement. It would have been more clear if I had thanked you for making me aware of government actions I wasn't previously aware of. Sorry about the confusion.

Regarding commodification, I agree with you that no evidence was offered for it. That's precisely why I suspect other driving forces behind the bans. For example, it might have more to do with fears about diseased drug addicts tainting the supply. The statement mentions the "tainted blood crisis," and many people may remember that, but they may not be aware of the steps taken since then to make the supply reasonably safe.

David R Henderson writes:

@James Pass,
Mr. Henderson, I did read the entire statement. It would have been more clear if I had thanked you for making me aware of government actions I wasn't previously aware of. Sorry about the confusion.
The apology should be mine. I should have taken your verb tense more seriously.
Regarding commodification, I agree with you that no evidence was offered for it. That's precisely why I suspect other driving forces behind the bans.
Now I get it.

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