, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 340-365
Date: 15 Sep 2012

Challenging the Moral Status of Blood Donation

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Abstract

The World Health Organisation encourages that blood donation becomes voluntary and unremunerated, a system already operated in the UK. Drawing on public documents and videos, this paper argues that blood donation is regarded and presented as altruistic and supererogatory. In advertisements, donation is presented as something undertaken for the benefit of others, a matter attracting considerable gratitude from recipients and the collecting organisation. It is argued that regarding blood donation as an act of supererogation is wrongheaded, and an alternative account of blood donation as moral obligation is presented. Two arguments are offered in support of this position. First, the principle of beneficence, understood in a broad consequentialist framework obliges donation where the benefit to the recipient is large and the cost to the donor relatively small. This argument can be applied, with differing levels of normativity, to various acts of donation. Second, the wrongness of free riding requires individuals to contribute to collective systems from which they benefit. Alone and in combination these arguments present moral reasons for donation, recognised in communication strategies elsewhere. Research is required to evaluate the potential effects on donation of a campaign which presents blood donation as moral obligation, but of wider importance is the recognition that other-regarding considerations in relation to our own as well as others’ health result in a range not only of choices but also of obligations.