This old post, on the moral status of donating blood, still attracts a trickle of Google searches to this blog. I wonder who the searchers are – perhaps people trying to get motivated to donate, people trying to rationalize not donating, or biomedical ethics paper writers?
Anyway, I hadn’t donated blood in over six months so I finally went. And there’s something that really bothers me about the United Blood Services center that I visit: they really overemphasize all of these stupid rewards programs for frequent donors. It’s tacky as hell, and somehow a little insulting. No, I don’t want to fill out a slip that will enter me in a sweepstakes to win a car. No, I don’t want to log in online and trade my points for prizes. Just to top off the juvenile atmosphere, they have a popcorn machine in the center, and so the whole place smells like a carnival. (I used to give blood at a Red Cross center, and don’t remember it being like this, but I see that even they have introduced an elaborate racing-themed incentive system).
Obviously, the point of these programs is to offers donors some material benefits (or the chance of winning them), above and beyond any intrinsic satisfaction a person might receive from giving blood. I’d be surprised if the programs worked very well, but who knows? People are funny. Just as I was contemptuously eyeing the popcorn machine, a middle aged lady ran in and excitedly started scooping some out for a pre-donation snack.
And donors have to settle for the stupid incentives or nothing, because most blood donations in the U.S. cannot be compensated in cash, by law (I think only some plasma donations are paid). But actually, I’d rather receive nothing but a post-donation snack rather than be subjected to the incentives. They just make me feel like I’m back in elementary school, being baited with junky plastic toys to sell more overpriced wallpaper to my neighbors in some dumb fundraiser.
So, my blood donation preference ordering:
- Paid donation: This is number 1 not so much because I want or need the money, but because there is a strong moral case to be made in favor of paid blood donation. Unlike most organ donations, blood donations do not cost the donor much in terms of time, sacrifice and health/safety. As such, it is not possible for donors to be badly exploited. And there is good reason to think that blood would be available in greater supply if donors were paid, even minimally. This is of moral significance, because blood saves lives. And a payment, even a small one, signals respect for donors.
- Totally uncompensated donation: Hey, at least you get to feel purely altruistic. Sometimes you get a “I gave blood” sticker, so that other people will see how virtuous you are.
- Incentive systems: Arguably and at least in my opinion, these do not show respect for donors. They probably don’t encourage anyone new to donate, and they are somewhat insulting to those who would have given to begin with. Give us something actually of value to everyone ($, however little) or just don’t even go there.