About me:

  • 27 year old healthy, cis, whitestraight male.
  • I am O- blood type, or ‘universal donor’. O- can be accepted by any recipient, and there are certain situations when only O- blood can be accepted, such as when the donee has O- blood type, or in situations where the blood type of the donee cannot be quickly found. Around 13% of people are O-.
  • I used to give regularly, and have given 10 times without issue. I haven’t given for 4 + years, mainly due to me being uncertain how useful it is on the margin, and the costs it incurs me. For me, these costs are:
    • Time. Generally a little under an hour at the donor center, plus 1 hour’s transport time if I get a lift by car or taxi, or 2 hours if I get public transport (I don’t own a car).
    • Feeling lethargic and tired afterwards. I find this persists for around 3 days after giving blood, and makes doing exercise harder for up to a week (doing regular exercise is important for me).
    • Discomfort of the needle when actually giving blood.

Situational factors: 

  • The UK (where I live) has just declared its first ever ‘amber alert’ for blood shortages. Stocks of O- are said to be below 2 days, with the NHS aiming for 6 days at all time. More importantly, it seems stocks are so low that non-urgent hospital operations are being postponed. This is the first time I’ve read of a blood shortages having direct consequences on hospital operations.

General evidence around giving blood

Much how EA complains that charities often don’t provide transparent evidence of their outcomes, I’m frustrated at the lack of evidence available to donors on the efficacy of donating blood. There seems to be very little attempt to measure the expected value of giving blood, and how it varies depending on blood stocks, or a donor’s blood type. There’s a few posts in the EA-verse, such as this one from 2017, which estimates ‘a unit of red blood cells costs about 120 pounds’ (frustratingly, no source is given). There’s this article from 2015, which estimates the value of giving blood to be equivalent to donating between $50 and $1667 to a GiveWell top charity. 

Following some sort of common-sense morality factoring in the current situational factors in the UK, and my comparative advantage with O- blood, I’ll probably donate in the coming two or three weeks. But if someone can provide links to more in-depth analysis on the usefulness of giving blood it’ll make me happy, and probably influence whether I take up donating regularly again. 


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Charles Dillon

Oct 13, 2022


I would guess that you could ballpark the marginal value somewhere around market prices in the US, which a Google search says is $50-75 per visit. Plausibly this is higher in the UK due to shortages brought on by the lack of a market, this is not clear to me.

Does the NHS ever pay to import blood? If so, that number, times the average cost efficiency of the NHS, which I think is approx £20k per year of healthy life, should not be way off, though of course it is oversimplified in numerous ways.

Given the above, I would be a little surprised if any reasonable version of this calculation got an answer substantially higher than 1 quality adjusted life day.

Thomas Kwa

Oct 13, 2022


I think the marginal value of donating now is low, perhaps even lower than on the average day. From the article you linked:

In the hours after the amber alert was announced, the Give Blood website appeared to be inundated with people wanting to book appointments.

People landing on the homepage were told they were in a "queue" before being able to choose a date and location for their donation.


Oct 27, 2022


It's relatively easy for Western governments to gather the quantity of blood that's needed. Increasing the rewards for blood donations straightforwardly increases the amount of blood that's given. 

Ensuring the quality of blood donations is harder. If you would pay out strong financial rewards you would get a lot of homeless people to donated blood and their blood is more likely to be contaminated by viruses than that of the people who donate blood because they are motivated by altruistic reasons instead of financial reasons. 

As far as I remember the accepted rate for AIDS infections is somwhere between 1 in 1-10 million blood transfusions at the moment. A lot of minor virsues like adenovirsues for which we don't test could also be passed on via blood transfusions without us understanding well how often that currently happens.

Policy-wise, it seems that the existing amber alert motivates enough people to donate. If it would probably make sense to say that if there's an amber alert that automatically raises financial rewards to donate blood.  

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:27 AM

I'm in the USA. We are the same blood type. For us, if possible (min weight and min iron levels met plus the other requirements), it is more efficient to do a "double red" donation. That is where we donate only our red blood cells. Our plasma is returned to us. It takes a little longer but is done less frequently. The recovery is a bit longer too, but regarding exercise it mostly just impacts your VO2Max, not your endurance or your strength. That's because you just have less Oxygen circulating, obviously, since you have fewer red blood cells. It takes about 2-4 weeks to rebuild those blood cells. Just want to share this possibility since it would reduce your travel time, your total donation time, and likely also your recovery time. Plus, it is the absolute most efficient use of OUR blood type. Cheers.


People also suggest there are health benefits to men for donating blood.