When I was in college, I donated plasma a dozen times to the Alpha Plasma Center in downtown Portland. I have a tiny white scar in the pit of my right forearm to prove it. Why did I waste my afternoons lounging on a vinyl recliner with a giant needle up my arm? Well, like everyone else there, I was flat broke. Back in 1991, I only got $15 for half a pint of plasma. I almost passed out walking across the street afterwards. After being sucked dry, I'd lurch to the Scary Safeway on Jefferson to buy some food, but only had half a bag of groceries to show for it. Had I read Jim Hogshire's Sell Yourself to Science
, I would've learned that there are far more profitable ways to make a buck.
This remarkably informative book is divided into two basic sections. The first half of Sell Yourself to Science tells the reader what it's like to be a medical guinea pig. The rest is a primer on how to donate or rent your body parts or body byproducts, such as body fluids, eggs, kidneys, parts of your liver, bone marrow, and corneas.
The "guinea pig" section deals only with "Phase One" medical studies — that is, scientific testing on healthy human beings. Hogshire is pretty honest about the unglamorous realities of being paid to be medically tested upon. One professional test subject likened the experience to "being in jail, only you're getting paid." Everything must be controlled and rigorously timed in order to get FDA approval, so while you're a test subject, your body belongs to the doctors. The pay is okay, but nothing great — it's considered "coercive" to pay lots of money for medical testing. Depending on the study, you might get to enjoy some recreational drugs, or you might be part of a laxative study. Or you might sleep 18 hours a day — there's no knowing what will be in store for you. So, why would people subject themselves to this? Well, it's a good gig for folks who don't like bosses and petty office politics. You also don't need much talent or brains to be a medical guinea pig — all you need is average good health. You get free cafeteria food and a bed to sleep in. The most famous medical case study subject might be the late, great author Ken Kesey, who got paid to take LSD daily back in the 1950's. However, most gigs aren't this good.
Jim Hogshire writes at length about the very profitable business of selling body fluids and/or organs. Everyone involved with this business makes a great deal of money — that is, everyone except the donor, who provided the desired product for free. For example, a person who donated a pint of blood gets only cookies and juice as compensation. However, Hogshire writes, the Red Cross sells that blood to blood banks for $150 a pint. To be fair, the Red Cross used to pay folks who donated blood, but found that this practice attracted drunks, who obviously had poor quality blood. Volunteers, however, provided better quality blood, so the Red Cross doesn't pay anybody anymore. The same principle goes for bone marrow, which is worth up to $10,000 a cup. In other countries such as Britain, Germany, the Phillipines and India, it's perfectly legal to sell body organs (as long as someone doesn't murder for them). Filipino prisoners can support their families by selling one of their functional kidneys. And did you know that 3/4 of your liver can be cut away only to regenerate to its original size in only a few weeks? You can get up to $150,000 for a slice of your liver, but since 1 out of 100 people die during liver operations, you might want to take these odds into consideration before signing a consent form.
You may not agree with all of Hogshire's politics about body farming, but Sell Yourself to Science is a well-researched and compelling book. Even if you have no plans of selling yourself to scientists, this book is a fascinating study of those who do, and the legal and ethical conflicts that result.