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Soc Sci Med. 1997 Jul;45(1):137-47.

Understanding donors' motivations: a study of unrelated bone marrow donors.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, USA.


Medical advances in bone marrow transplantation techniques and immunosuppressive medications have dramatically increased the number of such transplants performed each year, and consequently, the demand for bone marrow from unrelated donors. Although physiological aspects of bone marrow donation have been thoroughly investigated, very few studies have examined psychosocial factors that may impact individuals' donation decisions and outcomes. To examine one particular set of donor psychosocial issues, this study investigated motives for bone marrow donation among 343 unrelated bone marrow donors who donated through the National Marrow Donor Program. Six distinct types of donor motives were identified from open-ended questionnaire responses. Donors most frequently reported motives reflecting some awareness of both the costs (to themselves) and potential benefits (to themselves and the recipient) of donation. A desire to act in accordance with social or religious precepts, expected positive feelings about donating, empathy for the recipient, and the simple desire to help another person were also commonly cited reasons for donating. Among a series of donor background characteristics, donors' gender was the variable most strongly associated with motive type; women were most likely to cite expected positive feelings, empathy, and the desire to help someone. Central study findings indicated that donor motives predicted donors reactions to donation even after the effects of donor background characteristics (including gender) were controlled. Donors who reported exchange motives (weighing costs and benefits) and donors who reported simple (or idealized) helping motives experienced the donation as less positive in terms of higher predonation ambivalence and negative postdonation psychological reactions than did remaining donors. Donors who reported positive feeling and empathy motives had the most positive donation reactions in terms of lower ambivalence, and feeling like better persons postdonation. These finding add substantially to the body of work concerning medical volunteerism generally, and also have important practical implications for the recruitment and education of potential bone marrow donors.

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