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How Much for That Pint of Blood?

A reader named Jeff Stier wrote to inform us of the upcoming Angels in Waiting Third Annual Blood Drive in Memory of Joel Kirshner, for which Stier is the project director. Last year, the event was the largest mobile blood drive in the history of the New York Blood Center. For the past two years, the organizers have offered donors free “pint for a pint” coupons from Ben & Jerry’s. This year, they considered switching the gift to one-day passes to Manhattan’s high-end Reebok Sports Club. The gym agreed to donate 200 passes, valued at $35 each.

The plan hit a snag when Robert Purvis, vice president and executive director for New York Blood Services, stepped in with news of FDA regulations that prohibit compensation for blood donation. Stier summarizes :

[Purvis] explained that they are bound by FDA guidelines regulating “gifts” given to blood donors. He said, for instance, that any passes we hand out cannot be called “compensation” but rather something along the lines of “recognition.”

Specifically, the FDA prohibits any gifts to blood donors in excess of $25 in cumulative value, meaning that the gym passes were forbidden. So Stier came up with the following solution:

[I]nstead of giving the Reebok passes to “blood donors” –which is not allowed — we are going to give gym passes to the first 200 people who come to the event, regardless of whether they donate. They just have to register as future volunteers with Angels In Waiting.

Contrast the U.S. government’s view on the issue to that of China, where citizens are paid around $12 per blood donation. Private citizens are also free to offer incentives on their own, such as the online game operator who recently banned 120,000 cheaters from his site and refused to allow them back in unless they donated a pint of blood. Non-cheaters were also encouraged to donate with offers of free game accounts.

Given the popularity of online gaming in Chinese culture, which we’ve written about before, such an offer is no small incentive. As of March, 2007, more than 100 players had reportedly signed up to exchange blood for accounts.

Still, Chinese blood donation practices are hardly an exemplary model; in the 1990s, mass mismanagement of blood-collection centers led to 250,000 donors becoming accidentally infected with HIV, while reports indicate that, despite government intervention since then, harmful and careless practices continue in the outer provinces.