Before planned surgery, patients may choose autologous donation in order to avoid the small, but potential, risks of receiving an allogeneic blood transfusion. This study examined the perceived risks of allogeneic blood transfusions, preferences and willingness to pay for autologous donation and the desired role in the decision-making process in three populations: post-surgical patients, special interest group members and the general public. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected from 206 respondents with the help of computer-assisted semi-structured telephone interviews. Thirty-three per cent of the sample voiced concerns about receiving allogeneic blood transfusions. The risks of hepatitis C virus, human immunodeficiency virus, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and a haemolytic reaction were perceived as being low, but were rated as numerically higher than those of other life events that have equal probability. Autologous donation was perceived as removing all the risks associated with transfusion, and respondents were willing to pay a median $976 AUD ($664 US) to use this technique. Over 80% of respondents preferred to be involved in making the decision about whether to use autologous donation. Even though autologous donation is not 'risk-free' and the blood supply is very safe, people overestimate the associated risks and have a preference for their own blood. Decision aids presenting balanced information on the advantages and disadvantages of both allogeneic and autologous blood may be required.