Giving plasma for money

By Christopher Gillett

Some Youngstown State University students give plasma to make money while attending college.

Plasma, which makes up 55% of all human blood, is the liquid part that carries around cells and platelets. Once extracted through plasmapheresis, plasma is used for blood transfusions and to make medications to treat diseases.

George Mahramas, a junior graphic and interactive design major, recently began giving his plasma, and said he does it to make some extra cash and help people.

“I’m not relying on [money from plasma] super heavily as like a crutch. It’s more to get a little bit of extra floating money between two paychecks,” Mahramas said. “It’s also just kind of a good thing to do because they can use that sort of plasma to help make antibodies and do transfusions for people.”

Since American college tuition is not publicly funded, many college students give plasma for money. During the Great Recession in 2009, The Jambar covered university students giving their plasma for money.

Before attending YSU, Shawna Allshouse, a junior medical laboratory science major, gave plasma in 2009 to have money to buy diapers and formula for her child. Allshouse said her first time donating plasma was unnerving because she had to travel.

“Just as a young girl who was going there, it was kind of — especially in an area that I didn’t know — it was quite awkward and a little scary,” Allshouse said. “The worst part was being in Sharpsville [Pennsylvania] and having to go all the way to Youngstown, and there’s not more places available to go.”

The U.S. is one of five countries that allows plasma to be given for money and is the largest plasma exporter in the world. According to CNBC, blood made up over 2.5% of all American exports in 2021.

Kathleen McLaughlin, a journalist and critic of the plasma industry, and author of “Blood Money: The Story of Life, Death, and Profit Inside America’s Blood Industry,” which analyzes the plasma industry’s influence. McLaughlin said that the plasma industry relies on structural problems in the U.S.

“[The plasma industry] gravitates toward communities and neighborhoods and people who are economically marginalized and it thrives in those places,” McLaughlin said. “We have a whole lot — millions of people — who depend on this as part of their income.”

Because of the desperation of many people who give plasma, there is some stigma around it. McLaughlin said this stigma exists less in college.

“The practice is much less stigmatized with college students than other segments of society,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just become kind of a thing that college kids do to support themselves, to buy books, to buy groceries, to have a little money [and] to go have some extra fun. It doesn’t — I don’t think — come with the same stigma it comes with among working adults.”

If interested in McLaughlin’s book, visit the Simon and Schuster website. If interested in her work, follow her Twitter, @kemc.