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Clear Eyes, Full Veins, Can't Lose

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You can fake blood in the movies, but so far, there's no artificial substitute in real life. Peeking in on blood drives, wondering how blood gets from an arm to an operating table, producers Molly Webster and Soren Wheeler find a complex world that has them wondering if the gift of life isn't really a gift at all.

After listening to the story...

...dive deeper into the history and economy of blood with, Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce, by science writer Douglas Starr, which views hundreds of years of history through the lens of “red gold.”

...check out Gilbert Gaul’s Pulitzer Prize winning series on the blood industry – what could be described as the first revelation that blood, in fact, was big business.

...get an international scope on not just the blood trade, but organ trafficking, with journalist Scott Carney’s at-times-not-for-the-squeamish book, The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers.

...follow the blood economy, watching things like prices and trends, over at AABB (a play on blood types, if we’ve never seen it!), by checking out the 2011 National Blood Collection and Utilization Survey

...and here's a bonus track: for at least the last five years, Orlando Sentinel reporter Dan Tracy has been the watchdog of the blood business in Florida, where cases of high salaries, insider trading, and outlandish costs for the price of blood are still happening.


Scott Carney, Gilbert Gaul, Charles Rouault, Douglas Starr, Peter Tomasulo, Molly Webster and Soren Wheeler

Comments [15]

Matt from Denver

No Link? I just heard part of the story on the radio and wanted to listen to the rest... Perhaps you struck a cord?

Jan. 26 2017 11:03 PM
Peter Connelly from Belgium

Ditto on what Alan from Canton wrote.

Jun. 12 2015 06:16 PM

Where is the link to the story?

Jun. 04 2015 01:02 PM
Barbara Don from Los Angeles

There is another related story worth pursuing. When my 85 year old father died, the crematorium asked my mother and me if we wanted to donate some of his skin and bone for science. We would be helping somebody. I wasn't in the mood to ask questions so we agreed. Later, I really felt that our "gift" was used to line someone's pockets. Would this aspect of the cremation business be worth a story?

Jul. 15 2014 03:22 PM
Mike in Nebraska

Ditto on what Alan from Canton wrote.

Jun. 29 2014 12:06 PM
Alan from Canton,MA

"After listening to the story..." Where is the link to the Radiolab MP3?
I hear the show on XM NPR channel. Now I want the MP3 link to pass along.
Supporting links have their pages removed. No reference in archives.
You certainly struck a cord with someone that finances your endeavors.

Jun. 12 2014 02:56 PM
kushka from Atlanta

I sold my blood plasma to help me get through college back in Berkeley from '72-'78. I do believe we should allow for paid donors. Nowadays everyone is making money except the guy at the bottom.

May. 31 2014 12:21 PM
Austin from Minnesota

Does anyone know the study performed which found that the blood from donors was of better quality than the blood of people who were paid?

I am doing research on this topic. Well research on altruism and I think this study could be related.


Apr. 12 2014 12:12 PM

perhaps I missed this being mentioned earlier in the Blood episode, but there ARE plasma (not blood) donation businesses nationwide that pay donors fairly well for the half hour it takes per visit. I did so for 2 months at a center near Austin, once or twice per week to bring in something like $300 per month which really helped when I was between jobs then. YES, i felt real good knowing my plasma was helping someone somewhere, but must admit the money was my top reason for donating those two months. Does that make me a bad guy? hmmmm....

Jan. 12 2014 06:13 PM
Julien Couvreur

This segment on blood banks is a good illustration of economics (in the general sense of studying human action and choices, not just monetary exchanges).

There is waste of blood donated at wrong place or wrong time. This is not surprising considering that there is no price signal to coordinate producers (donors) and consumers (blood banks, hospitals). There are only mixed messages from politicians and the media.

On the other hand, there is a market for blood between blood banks and hospitals. Arbitrage has spawned up to alleviate wastes of blood being available in the wrong place, to move it to a place where it is needed.

As a side note, it appears that everyone is getting paid except blood donors. Maybe it is time to repeal federal prohibition of giving blood for money.
After all, giving blood donation is legal, receiving money donation is legal, yet the combination is somehow still considered illegal.
There are much better ways to address the quality concerns described with paid-for blood donations in the episode.
Also, the ban is disproportionately harming the poor who would consider such arrangements.

Aug. 08 2013 04:48 PM
Julien Couvreur

The link to Orlanda Sentinel is broken.
Here is the correct address:

Aug. 08 2013 04:35 PM
Warren from Edmonton, Canada

Odd that the conclusion was that treating blood as a commodity was inevitable - "just have to let [the idea of blood as a gift] go", when counterexamples like Britain and Canada exist. Of course, the American system probably can't be run by a government agency, because of American healthcare politics, but it would have been nice to see that explored explicitly.

Aug. 07 2013 07:43 PM
J.S. from Los Angeles

What should have been made more clear is that all blood banks are non-profits. While there is money involved and revenue is generated for the blood banks there are no profits. The money is solely used by the nonprofit to fulfill its mission of collecting blood. Unlike a for-profit business which distributes profits to the owners of the business. I don't think the fact that there is money involved taints the act of donating blood. We want to make sure that nonprofits are effective in what they do. In order to do this they need to hire professional staff which takes a significant amount of money. Giving blood is not like a bake sale. You can't do it with volunteers.

Aug. 05 2013 06:31 PM
Anna Brawley from Anchorage, AK

There's even shadiness and greed in *blood* banking...

Aug. 02 2013 06:44 PM

This was kind of horrifying to hear about even though it didn't exactly surprise me. Sure, the processing costs, so charging/selling isn't unethical--it's the profit that sucks. I can't help but feel they should at least be compensating donors for their time and wooziness and be true non-profits. (Not so that it would attract people wanting to make money by donating...more like a jury duty amount.) The fact that Red Cross and others are profiting should really be questioned further by the public. Part of the story here to me is a marketing story--you make people feel good about themselves and they will do what you want and close their ears to the details. Every time there's a disaster [marketing time!] I feel guilty about wanting to tell people to check out Red Cross's tax returns before they go txting $10 or buying stuff from celebrities saying they're donating millions to Red Cross...and then go donate to a smaller non-profit that is ACTUALLY A NON-PROFIT. (Then again, in today's world, big non-profits are big business.) Definitely a story for Tiny Spark to take up if they ever start producing again!

Aug. 02 2013 03:16 AM

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