Anyone who has ever surfed the Internet, watched a network television program, or driven down a busy street has encountered an unpleasant reality of modern life: the proliferation of advertising. Advertisements for everything from cars to pain relievers promise to imbue the owner with happiness, health, and sex appeal. Pop-up ads on personal computers correspond to the user’s surfing habits to create a highly individualized onslaught of messaging. While Americans might grumble about the lengthy advertisements at their local cineplex, most would also contend that mass commercialization poses less more of an annoyance than an actual threat to those who live in developed countries. However, as commercialization infiltrates every aspect of our society, Americans find themselves in the middle of a moral dilemma: should everything have a price? Are certain things, like health care, basic human rights that should never come with a price tag attached? More specifically, should blood be treated as a commodity? A closer look at the differences between the British and American blood marketing systems demonstrates the advantages and disadvantages of each.
The British maintain an adequate blood supply by relying wholly on voluntary donations. Because of the necessity of blood for survival, the British have resisted placing monetary value on that which has been freely given. The American system, in contrast, relies both on voluntary donation and a commercial system in which blood “is bought and sold like any other commodity” (Shaw, 2005, p. 75). Economist Richard Titmuss evaluated both systems and concluded that the British system is superior in terms of both “economic and administrative efficiency” (Shaw, p. 75). The American system suffers from high costs, frequent shortages, and an inequitable burden placed on those whose health conditions require frequent transfusions. Additionally, when blood becomes a commodity, the purity of the supply often suffers as unscrupulous suppliers rush to market blood that has been inadequately screened. When blood offers no potential profits, screeners are motivated to value the quality of the supply rather than the quantity.
Some might argue that the American health care system operates on a for-profit basis, and the blood supply should be treated no differently. Prescription drugs, physician consults, and hospital stays all come with a price tag. Why should blood be free? The simple answer is that blood can be freely given. The donor loses nothing but his time and a pint of blood that is quickly replenished in a healthy body. Medicine requires costly research and development, and physicians undergo rigorous and expensive training before they are able to earn money as practicing professionals. Hospitals must pay for equipment and the salaries and benefits of their employees. Each of these components adds to the cost that the consumer assumes when he or she receives medical care.
Some would further argue that if blood is offered for free, donation would cease. Those who have been compensated for donating blood in the past would refuse to continue doing so in the absence of a monetary reward. Again, the British system tells a different story. Philosopher Peter Singer explored the motives of those who donated blood in the British system. He found that because blood had no price, the donors had the opportunity to behave altruistically. As Singer noted, “when blood is a commodity, and can be purchased if it is not given, altruism becomes unnecessary, and so loosens the bonds that can otherwise exist between strangers in a community” (Shaw, 2005, p. 76). Additionally, the United States’ system currently draws approximately 40% of its supply from donation. Even if donors stopped receiving compensation for their blood, one could assume that at least some percentage of the paid donors would continue donating for free because blood donation has simply become ingrained in their...
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