Keep NAFTA: Canada needs your body fluids
“I want tariffs,” President Trump was recently quoted as having said. He also said, off the cuff, that he’d “end up probably terminating NAFTA.”
Either would be a catastrophe for my home country, Canada, and not just economically. It is American sperm and blood plasma that makes and saves so many Canadian lives.
Canada used to have a sufficient supply of domestic sperm donors. But in 2004, we passed the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which made it illegal to compensate donors for their sperm. The number of donors plummeted, and donor clinics were shuttered. Now, we have basically just one sperm donor clinic in Canada, and 30 to 70 Canadians who donate sperm.
Since demand far outstrips supply, we turn to you. We import sperm from for-profit companies in the USA, where compensating sperm donors is both legal and normal.
Canada has never had enough domestic blood plasma for plasma-protein products, such as immune globulin. Last year, we collected only enough from unpaid donors to manufacture 17% of the immune globulin demanded. The rest we imported from you, in exchange for $512 million.
The anti-compensation groups argue that blood plasma from paid donors was less safe. They object to a Canadian for-profit company paying Canadians in Canada, but American for-profit companies compensating donors in America does not appear to register on their moral radar.
As for safety, the fact that we import products made from paid donors should tell you that it is not an issue. Health Canada has said that there is no concern. The CEO of Canadian Blood Services took to YouTube to explain that “it is categorically untrue to say, in 2015 or 2016, that plasma-protein products from paid donors are less safe or unsafe.”
Maybe it’s true that people should donate these fluids out of the kindness of their hearts. But the fact is that not enough people will. For years, we’ve been imploring people to do so, and it doesn’t work.
This anti-incentive ideology is not just a Canadian problem: About 100,000 Americans are suffering on a waiting list for a kidney. In 2014, 4,761 patients died waiting. A carefully regulated market in kidneys would save thousands of lives.
In the absence of charity and goodwill, perhaps it’s better to buy good results. We can’t let people die as we sit and wait for spontaneous explosions in virtue.
What Canada should do is legalize compensation for renewable bodily fluids in our own country. It would be the morally right thing to do. It would help make and save more lives, without harming anybody.
Until we realize our mistake, we need you Americans to keep rolling up your sleeves and unzipping your pants — not just for the sake of lucre, but also for the sake of the thousands of current and future Canadians whose lives depend on you.
Peter Jaworski, on the faculty in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, is co-author of Markets without Limits: Moral Virtues and Commercial Interests.