Clearing Up Some Misconceptions About Blood

Sometimes I have to do a little work whenever I run into someone who says they won’t donate blood with the Red Cross because they say we sell blood or that they would rather donate to whichever blood center may already be on campus. Donating somewhere – Red Cross or not – is always better than not donating at all – but there are some misconceptions that shouldn’t be barriers to donating:

1. “The Red Cross sells blood”

The short answer to this question is yes, but hospitals need to pay for each pint to cover the costs associated with getting that pint of blood, including paying the nurses that draw the blood, testing the blood for diseases, separating the blood, and also a little bit to cover administrative costs. An average pint of blood can cost $300 apiece. Even hospitals with their own blood collection units still have a similar cost-per-unit breakdown; the Red Cross doesn’t profit off of donated blood, but only charges what is needed to cover the same expenses that any blood bank faces.

2. “I want my blood to go back to [insert your school name here] medical center”

While each hospital is different, it’s difficult for a hospital to have enough blood for the transfusions taking place everyday – and shortages everywhere from Southern California to New York don’t make it any better. Case in point, UCLA Medical Center can only collect about 50-60 percent of its own blood supply. The rest usually comes from the Red Cross or another blood bank, so there’s a very good chance that if your blood is collected on campus it will end up at your local medical center. Even if it doesn’t, your blood donation helps supply all of a local area (ex. Southern California), where there are several hospitals and communities that need your blood.

3. “The Red Cross discriminates against men who have had sex with other men”

Policies that prohibit men who have had sex with other men (MSM) from donating are actually FDA standards that the Red Cross has to observe in accordance with federal law. Though the Red Cross has been accused of discrimination because of MSM deferrals, the federal government determines who can and can’t donate, not the Red Cross. In a 10 February 2008 editorial, The Harvard Crimson wrote, “boycotting Red Cross blood drives punishes patients in need of blood transfusions instead of targeting FDA officials who have the power to modify restrictions.”

Blood collection and distribution, like any other industry, is by no means perfect, but whenever possible, a decision to donate shouldn’t have to be marred by allegations of money-making or discrimination when there are people in need.

Justin Lam, California

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One Response to “Clearing Up Some Misconceptions About Blood”
  1. Jim says:

    What is the position of The Red Cross on taking donations from persons with Hereditary Hemochromatosis?

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