Red Cross: you donate, they sell

Did you know that the Red Cross sells blood? I didn’t.

I was talking to a Haitian friend of mine about charitable contributions and I mentioned that my husband and I make annual donations to the Red Cross. She gave me an earful about how after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the money that was supposed to arrive from the Red Cross – didn’t. The very next day, a childhood friend of mine, Stephen Engelberg, Editor-in-Chief of the independent, non-profit, news outlet, ProPublica, alerted me to this article: The Red Cross CEO Has Been Serially Misleading About Where Donors’ Dollars Are Going.

It said, in part, “Most of what the Red Cross does is take donated blood and sell it to health care providers. Of the more than $3 billion that the Red Cross spent last year, two-thirds was spent not on disaster relief but rather on the group’s blood business.” Come again? The Red Cross sells blood? And it uses the money that unsuspecting do-gooders donate to pay wages and benefits to the people who manage the business? I’m shocked! And I’m not saying that with my Jon Stewart voice: I really am shocked.

I visited the American Red Cross website to educate myself. If selling blood is big business, it can’t be too hard to find out about, right? Well you’re not going to hear about it from the Red Cross. There is zero indication on their web site that they sell blood. As a matter of fact, the page that has their mission statement clearly says, “The Red Cross is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.” I’m confused. If that’s the case, how come they’re selling blood?

Still feeling foolish, I kept exploring and came up with this article, The Business of Blood, from 2006 on Slate. That article explains the trail of blood. It also says, “The system of blood distribution hasn’t always relied on volunteer donors. Until the 1970s, a major portion of the nation’s blood supply came from paid donors. But a government study found that volunteered blood was much less prone to hepatitis contamination. From then on, blood banks had to label their packages “paid” or “volunteer,” which had the effect of eliminating paid-donor blood from the national supply.” So, it’s our collective fault that people are donating blood, out of the goodness of their hearts (and circulatory systems), that other people then sell?

Perhaps this is not news to you. Maybe you saw the article in a July, 2012, issue of Forbes, The Guys Who Trade Your Blood For Profit, that outlined the difficulties a startup blood distributor had competing with the American Red Cross. And maybe the scandal about where donor’s dollars are going isn’t a surprise either, because you saw the article on HuffingtonPost.com in January, 2012, Red Cross Responds To Documentary’s Charges Of Haiti Aid Failure. But I had no idea, and now I feel like a child who just found out that the tooth fairy isn’t real.

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2 responses to “Red Cross: you donate, they sell

  1. The tooth fairy isn’t real?!?!?!?!?!

  2. Judy, as a life long blood donor, I learned some time ago that the Red Cross sells the blood. Of course, there is a significant cost to their collection, processing and distribution system. The nurses and staff who collect blood are all paid employees. Fundraising for the Red Cross focuses on disasters – no one gives money to support the cost of the blood program. Furthermore, in recent years, the demand for blood has dropped due to more efficient surgical techniques and autologous donations, so sales revenues are down. The Red Cross is restructuring its blood collection and distribution system to reduce costs (i.e., employees).

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