Thoughts & Ideas

Thursday, December 29, 2005

On Blood Donation

I once attended a meeting of voluntary blood donors called by an organisation which co-ordinates such activities. Life & Blood are emotional issues. The occasion gave an opportunity to voluntary donors and recipients to voice their feelings. The meeting was also addressed by a medical doctor who gave an impressive speech on the pros, cons and importance of blood donation.

One fact that stood out in course of the deliberations was that virtually all the speakers (donors / recipients / organisers) had initially been attracted to this activity due to crises in their personal life. It gave me an opportunity to reflect as to how I became a regular voluntary blood donor for over 20 years.

As an undergraduate student one of the recommended texts was a book called “Readings in Economics”. This book contained an article by Prof. Paul Samuelson titled “Free Blood in England, Bought Blood in the United States”. Prof. Samuelson is a Nobel Prize winner in Economics and is renowned in his field. In this article originally published in “Newsweek”, Prof. Samuelson gives his views on a book titled “The Gift Relationship : From Human Blood to Social Policy” by Prof. Richard Titmuss a sociologist with the London School of Economics.

Prof. Samuelson argues that there are issues in Society beyond the realm of money - that there is something called a free lunch. In his words, “No Englishman pays even a shilling for all the blood his doctors prescribe for him. ... Where is the catch ? ...medicine is socialised in Great Britain; so although the patient does not pay directly .. surely the long suffering middle classes are bled white by the tax system so that paupers can live parasitically on the red cells and energies of their betters ? Wrong.” He goes on to explain the phenomenon, “No one pays for blood in England because no donor receives anything for his gift. That is, nothing except the mere satisfaction from giving. When I give blood in England that does not give me a surer claim on blood at a future date when I may need it. it does not give my child a preferred place in the queue for blood. All I get is the anonymous pleasure of knowing that I have helped my fellow man.”

Many of the underlying assumptions on which the article is based may not be now relevant. However, one thing which is relevant, remains so and would in all probability would remain relevant is the idea that how we structure our society is of paramount importance. In UK there is a culture of voluntary blood donation. Only 6% of the population is actively involved in this philantrophic activity. However, this in turns ensures that the public health system is never short of blood. Any needy person gets all the blood he requires without paying for it. Moreover, since the blood is donated freely, the cost to society is less. A voluntary donor is more likely to desist from giving blood in case he has suffered from infectious diseases which makes his blood unfit for transfusion, unlike the case of a professional donor. (Prof. Titmuss has given extensive statistics from various countries to conclusively prove this point). This also ensures a regular supply of blood, as blood is not collected by way of donation camps but individuals either make it a point to donate blood on any anniversary of their choice or they register themselves and make themselves available for bleeding in case of need.

The question on how we structure our society involves all of us in the ordinary course of our life. It does not call for any great investment in time, effort or money. All it calls for is greater participation in one’s immediate social environment. Donating blood is just one of them.

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