Friday, 5 July 2013

Paying for Blood Donations Can Be both Safe and Non-Exploitative

On June 27, 2013, the federal government released a summary report of its consultations with stakeholders regarding payment for plasma donations. Meanwhile, a company called Canadian Plasma Resources has constructed two privately owned clinics in Toronto that await approval prior to paying donors for their blood plasma.

Right on cue, the union representing employees at Canadian Blood Services (which has a government-granted monopoly on whole blood collection in Canada, outside of Quebec) proclaimed that safety will somehow be jeopardized if plasma is collected by anyone other than a public facility. Other opponents have attempted to sway public opinion by arguing that payment for plasma is somehow exploitative. Both criticisms are smoke-and-mirrors. I know from experience.

I have the blood that everyone wants. I am heterosexual, monogamous, and in good health with no underlying medical conditions. I don’t travel to regions of the world where strange infections persist. I’ve had no recent surgeries or dental work. I take no drugs. And I rarely—if ever—get sick. Oh yes, I have no fear of needles.

Despite these ideal attributes, I rarely donate. The entire process is a bother. It inevitably consumes the most productive hours of the day. Even though it involves only a small measure of discomfort, it always seems to negatively impact upon my work and personal endeavors. For me, altruism alone is not a sufficient incentive.

But there was a time in my life when I was attending school in the US, living off loans and struggling to pay the bills. Financially, those were stressful times. That’s why I was delighted by the opportunity to earn $45 per week.

Down the street from my budget apartment was a private medical clinic that collected plasma. The clinic gave first-time donors a thorough health examination. And after a lengthy interview to assess risk factors, donors who qualified were permitted to give plasma twice a week. The first visit in each seven-day period earned me $20, and the second earned $25.

I like to think that my plasma donations helped someone who needed it. Although I can’t claim to have had purely altruistic motives, I doubt the recipient of the life-saving medical products my plasma was used to create cared much about my motivation.

On other hand, the money was a boon for me. It meant that I could afford better food, put gas in my car, and maybe even go on an occasional evening out with my wife. And just for giving plasma—something that regenerates quickly. This is why it annoys me when I hear the word “exploitation” bandied about by those who oppose paying donors. Being paid to give plasma was a great help to me at that time in my life. And I am certain that it could be for others too. There is simply nothing exploitative about it at all.

First, I was in no way being abused by those paying me—if that’s what is meant by “exploit”, the criticism is ludicrous. The plasma was mine. The money was theirs. They wanted my plasma and I wanted their money, so we came to a mutually beneficial agreement to exchange the two. We both got what we wanted. No abusive exploitation.

Second, if anything, it was me doing the exploiting. Even though I made an effort to lead a healthy lifestyle—eating quality foods and exercising, while avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and the like—many of the physical characteristics that made me a good candidate were given me by my parents. Yet I reaped the benefit. I exploited this resource.

Third, how is paying someone for plasma more exploitative than offering no compensation? With or without payment, plasma donations are always voluntary. If either is exploitative, expecting donors to give plasma without payment—perhaps by inducing guilt or shame—seems more so to me.

The concern regarding safety is a sham—most plasma available in Canada already comes from donors paid in private clinics. Health Canada says approximately 70% of the plasma products available in Canada originate from such donors. Most of them are Americans. So either demand for plasma products in Canada outstrips the capacity of Canadians to donate, or Canadians have insufficient incentive. My experience makes me suspect the latter.

Evidently, altruism alone cannot supply all the blood products that Canadians need. It was the financial incentive that motivated me to donate, and my donations likely saved lives. That’s a win-win solution that should not be rejected under pressure from vested interests.

This piece first appeared in the Huffington Post in July 2013.

Censorship Laws Do Not Protect Everyone

On June 19th, comedian Guy Earle lost his appeal of a 2011 BC Human Rights Tribunal decision. The Tribunal found that Earle discriminated against Lorna Pardy during an open mic event for amateur stand-up comics. The story of what happened is difficult to piece together, but it seems that Pardy heckled Earle and he responded by making insulting comments regarding her sexual orientation. The confrontation escalated to the point where Pardy threw a glass of water in Earle’s face. The Tribunal ordered Earle to pay Pardy $15,000 for injury to her “dignity, feelings, and self-respect”—yes, that’s something that human rights laws often protect. The Supreme Court of British Columbia upheld the Tribunal’s decision.

In contrast, in 2003, the Alberta Human Rights Commission did not protect the dignity, feelings, or self-respect of Quintin Johnson. Johnson, a Christian, had complained to the Commission regarding a song titled “Kill the Christian” by the death metal band Deicide. The lyrics included “you are the one we despise”, “I will love watching you die”, and “kill the Christian”. The Commission dismissed Johnson’s complaint on the grounds that Deicide did not have a wide enough listening audience or popular appeal, even though the band had sold nearly 500,000 albums in the U.S. alone by that time.

So why is Earle’s artistic expression discriminatory while Deicide’s is not? What makes Earle’s expression more harmful than Deicide’s?

It’s not the content of the expression. Deicide is counselling violence against Christians, while Earle only demeaned Pardy’s sexuality. Earle may have hurt Pardy’s feelings, but Deicide’s lyrics may be vociferous enough to sustain an investigation under the “hate propaganda” section of the Criminal Code.

It’s not the context of the performances. The song “Kill the Christian” can be purchased at nearly any popular music record store. It is available online via iTunes, Amazon, and from a myriad of other online music retailers. And because of the nature of recorded music, a listener can choose to hear the song over and over again. Earle’s insults were purely transient. After he uttered them, no one, including Pardy, could hear them again.

It’s not the size of the audience. Deicide regularly tours the world, including Canada, and is free to perform music that advocates killing members of the Christian faith. Yet when Earle stood on a stage and made one-time remarks about Pardy’s sexuality, she was awarded $15,000 of Earle’s money. The complaint against Deicide was dismissed because the audience was deemed too small. Yet Earle’s audience was much smaller.

Maybe it’s who the complaint was made about? Deicide’s lyrics are written by the band’s vocalist, Glen Benton. It would be an extreme understatement to say that Benton is a controversial figure in the music industry. He has been labelled an animal abuser, a misogynist, and an anti-Christian Satanist. Earle, on the other hand, is a law-abiding amateur stand-up comic who has an otherwise untarnished reputation.

To be absolutely clear, both Deicide and Earle should have won their human rights cases. Freedom of expression and the liberty to speak freely should prevail. Further, no government official should be in the business of deciding what qualifies as artistic expression or determining the value of that expression.

Even if Pardy and Johnson suffered hurt feelings, neither one should be permitted to drag the party who hurt their feelings through a human rights process. Both Pardy and Johnson should have demonstrated their maturity by walking away. Pardy could have walked out of the club that night at the first sign of trouble. If she had, there would have been no problem. Johnson could have easily avoided Deicide’s music. Had he done so, he could not have been offended.

Any clear-headed appraisal of these cases would find Deicide’s expression more harmful than Earle’s. So if it’s not the content, the context, the audience, or the person who the complaint was made about, then what?

The lesson to be learned is that human rights laws only protect certain people—the identity of the complainant matters. Because Pardy is a lesbian, her feelings are protected by the law. As a Christian, Johnson’s are not.

This piece first appeared in the Huffington Post in July 2013.