EU May Ban Payments for Milk, Sperm and Blood

BrusselsSignal: The European Parliament has approved a draft regulation banning payments for breast milk, sperm, blood and other “substances of human origin” (SoHO).

Billed as an attempt to increase safety across the bloc, the ban allegedly aims to ensure that those who are financially disadvantaged within the bloc are not subject to undue pressure to donate their cells and bodily fluids.

Hmmm. Why not ban the sale of labor to protect financially disadvantaged labor donors from undue pressure? Indeed, why not require that dangerous jobs like mining pay low wages so we can be sure that no one is induced to do these jobs by financial pressure?

More prosaically, the European Union falls short of producing all the blood plasma it needs to meet its demand for life-saving medicine. Consequently, the European Union depends on imports—primarily from compensated donors in the United States—to address its plasma deficit. Should the proposed EU legislation be enacted, the deficit is likely to get worse because Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, currently permit financial compensation. Indeed the U.S. and these EU countries together account for 90% of the global plasma supply. A ban on paid donations within the EU will thus decrease the quantity of plasma supplied from Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic and force the EU to rely even more on imports from the US.

The US is also the world’s biggest exporter of human sperm because US sperm donors can be compensated and remain anonymous (depending on the state). US donors are also carefully screened for quality, in part due to US regulations and in part due to market demand for information about the donors. Denmark is also a major exporter of sperm, in part because it, too, allows financial incentives to donors. Reduced donations from Denmark will make the European Union increasingly dependent on U.S. sperm supplies. Indeed, after Canada banned paid sperm donors in 2004, the supply of Canadian donors plummeted to just 35 (!) and US sperm exports to Canada increased. Unintended consequences, eh?

Creating EU wide standards for testing of blood, sperm and breast milk to allow greater flows across borders is a good idea. Shortages of baby formula in the US, for example, led to a valuable increase in breast milk donations and sales but it would probably be better if more breast milk donations went through a qualified milk bank rather than through Facebook (and the same is also true for sperm banks and sperm donations). But there is no call for banning paid donation.

Paying donors of blood, sperm and breast milk is an ethical way to increase the quantity supplied and it can be done while ensuring that the donations are high-quality and safe.



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