Donating blood, plasma, platelets

In my country, Australia, only three percent of people donate blood.

Consider that. Blood and blood products are in high demand by the Red Cross, they save many lives each year. Donating blood (or blood plasma, or blood platelets) takes only an hour or so, involves no pain, no expense to the person donating, very little inconvenience; and yet so few people have sufficient compassion for their fellows to actually do it.

I do need to acknowledge that some people can't donate blood for one reason or another, but most of us can.

This page was written 2019/03/04, last edited 2023/08/15
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

Donating blood plasma
Donating plasma
The plasma goes into the bag on the lower right. The bag at the upper right contains saline solution that is used to replace the volume of the plasma taken. See the main text for details.
There is not a lot of point in my trying to go into the details of what is done with blood and blood products following donation, these subjects have been very well covered elsewhere, such as Better Health, Victoria.

What might be useful is if I write about why I donate blood.

Our lives gain much more meaning if we contribute to the societies in which we live. In this world where our shared environment is suffering from things like climate change, ocean acidification, ocean warming and sea level rise and generally increasing pollution we all have a responsibility to make an effort to improve the situation. Activities motivated by selfishness are destroying our only planet, we need more altruism.

Donating blood plasma takes an hour or so of my time once in a while and allows me a little more self-respect because I'm doing someone else a favour, possibly even saving a life (I've been donating, mainly whole blood, for about 50 years, I'm up to 104 donations in March 2020).

One of the other things I've been involved in for the good of the world and of future generations is trying to get action on climate change, including:

  • taking part in a 328km walk for solar thermal power in 2012 (see also Facebook);
  • doing a 750km walk in 2014 to carry a petition from Melbourne to the Australian Parliament in Canberra asking for action on climate change;
  • working at debunking the lies told about wind power, and giving the facts on wind power, from 2004 to the present;
  • and generally trying to raise awareness of the problems associated with climate change.
I was nearly killed in a car accident in November 2017. I did not lose any blood nor did I require any blood products, but the experience made me realise how any of us can die at any time as well as how, when things go wrong, we heavily rely on our health services.

Blood donation, as I see it, is another small thing I can do for the world in which I live and in which my grandchildren will have to live the rest of their lives.

The Dalai Lama, a man I greatly admire, often uses the word 'compassion' in his writings and he is right to do so; compassion is one of the great virtues. Donating blood is a way of showing your compassion for your fellow human beings. I've written elsewhere about the big choices we have in our lives and why we benefit from being altruistic.

The process

Donating whole blood

Giving whole blood is the simplest. The nurse will put a needle attached to a tube into you arm (you'll feel no more than a small prick) and you wait while a bag fills with the set amount of blood. I've donated whole blood most of my donating life.

Donating plasma

Giving blood plasma is a little more complicated, although the person donating doesn't have to concern himself with the details. The needle and tube is put into the arm, as with donating whole blood. The tube leads to a machine like the one in the photo.

The machine takes some blood, uses a centrifuge to separate the plasma from the remainder, which is then returned to your body via the same tube. This procedure is repeated four to ten times (different machines vary in the number of stages) over a period of perhaps three quarters of an hour, all without the donating person having to concern himself with it. A couple of times during the procedure the machine will top you up with some saline solution, to make up for the volume of plasma taken out (more recently the machines that have taken my plasma have topped me up at the end).

I've donated plasma for the last three years.

I have never donated platelets so cannot comment on that experience.

A bonus

A bonus in donating blood is that you get a free health check every time you donate. They check your blood pressure, haemoglobin level, and heart beat regularity.

The result

At the end of a restful half hour (for a whole blood donation) to about an hour (for a plasma donation) the product can be used to help someone in need, perhaps even save someone's life.

The person who has done the donation gets a sticker put over the site of the needle prick and a bandage that should stay on for an hour or so. He/she is advised to have a drink and maybe a small snack (which is provided, another bonus) and rest for ten minutes or so just in case there is a feeling of faintness (after 104 donations I've never had any adverse reaction of any kind).

(I've noticed that party pies are provided at Perth and Bendigo blood banks, but not Adelaide.)

It's a good feeling to know that you have done a stranger a favour; to have made a small act of altruism in a world that is being destroyed by selfishness. (Just as an aside, on the subject of altruism, I've noticed that opposition to wind power is mostly selfish while opposition to the coal industry is mostly altruistic.)

This section

Selling blood

In or about 1972 I sold some of my blood in what was then Portuguese Timor (now Timor Leste, East Timor). I remember thinking that the cost of living there at the time was so low that a person like myself could probably get by financially by selling a pint of blood every couple of weeks.

The wisdom of selling blood as frequently as that is another matter, and whether I was right in my estimation is probably questionable. The blood service in Australia does not take whole blood donations more frequently than once every three months, although plasma can be donated once a fortnight.

I also sold blood twice, with a fortnight between, in Greece about seven months later, with no noticeable ill effect.

So long as I have been involved, since about 1965, human blood was never officially sold in Australia, it has always been donated.

This section added
edited 2024/01/17

The end to my donations?

I have been donating blood since about 1960. Back then, in the country towns where the blood service visited every three months, as I recall we had canvas stretchers to lie on while we donated. One incentive offered to young blokes (I was one of those back then) was a beer after the donation. I suppose that the blood service has since decided that this is not entirely ethical.

I gather that in 2024 the blood service's records only go back about 25 years. Tomorrow, 2024/01/18, I'm due to give the 150th donation, according to the blood service's records. I have no idea how many times I've donated in total.

I donated:

  • 13 times in 2019,
  • 10 times in 2020,
  • 8 times in 2021,
  • 11 times in 2022 and
  • 17 times in 2023
I was turned away from the Perth, Western Australia, donation centre in January 2023 because I had a pimple on my neck. I told the nurse that I had seen a doctor about it and he told me only that it was probably not cancerous. She did not even look at it. It seemed to me a strange reason to not accept my blood or plasma. (The pimple healed up in the next month or so.)

Again in August 2023 I was turned away from the Rockingham donation centre. I had been suffering some neck pain for well over a month. I went to see a doctor about it the day before trying to donate. The doctor ordered X-rays. The blood service didn't want to accept another donation until the results of the X-rays were returned. I had donated fortnightly for the preceding four months, the only thing that was different at this point was that I had seen a doctor and had an X-Ray examination.

I suspect that my ageing and generally declining health will eventually stop me donating.

Update, 2024/01/05

I'm still donating as frequently as I can. I am due for my 150th (recorded) donation on 18th January.

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Reducing waste

I have noticed that in the Grenfell blood centre, Adelaide, South Australia, throw-away cups are provided for donors, in the Perth city centre, Western Australia and the Bendigo, Victoria, centre, reusable cups are provided with instructions to place them in the dishwasher after use.

The latter system is much to be preferred, so that the amount of rubbish going to landfill is minimised.

Related pages

On this site...

Ashamed to be Australian?; do something about it.


Contribution to society


Euthanasia, some thoughts

Responsible Mid-North, reducing waste

Science denial and climate change

Self or all?, selfishness or altruism?

To oppose wind power is to support fossil fuels, including especially, coal, a compassionate person would not do it.

Walking for climate change awareness: cleaning up the roadsides at the same time

Why I support the local wind farm and why any other compassionate person would do the same.

Why would you do that?; The big choices we have in our lives

External sites...

Better Health, Victoria, on blood donation.

The Australian Red Cross blood service has a Web page on blood donation.

Why Do Human Beings Do Good Things? The Puzzle of Altruism", by Steve Taylor; he suggested that the answer could be empathy.