At Central Michigan U., It’s a Matter of Money

Mount Pleasant, Mich. — By the time the sixth or seventh Central Michigan University journalism student e-mailed to suggest that I visit Mount Pleasant, it wasn’t hard to guess that they had been put up to writing. Turns out that John K. Hartman, a journalism professor, assigned students in his feature-writing class to propose story ideas for me. But it was a journalism student who isn’t in that class, Brad Canze, whose offhand remark caught me off guard. “I’m off to do that college-student thing—donating plasma,” he said.

Mr. Canze, a senior, is the opinion editor for the university’s highly-regarded three-times-a-week student newspaper, Central Michigan Life. I’ll be honest and say I was stunned by the plasma remark. Selling blood products isn’t something I associate with being an enthusiastic, articulate, engaging young journalist who has recently taken on the university’s new president over his failure to be as accessible to students as he had promised.

“For a lot of college students, it’s just a little extra spending money,” Mr. Canze said when I asked about the plasma trade. “I probably know nine to a dozen people who will go regularly. They screen you, hook you up, pump you, and get you on your way.” Each visit to the local BioLife Plasma Services facility takes about an hour, during which you can read, listen to music, or get on Facebook through the company’s Wifi network. The facility even offers day care.

“Donating” is a euphemism the company uses. The frequently-asked-questions section of the company’s Web site includes the question: “Why do plasma donors receive money for donating?” The answer: “Plasma donors spend up to two hours, as often as twice a week, in our centers to help save someone’s life or improve the quality of it. We merely offer compensation to our donors for their commitment to the program. For more compensation information, contact your local center directly.”

You make $20 per BioLife visit, Mr. Canze told me. You can go as often as twice a week, and if you go at least once a week for a month, you get a $20 bonus. The math is easy enough—you can make $180 a month. That’s real money, especially for college students, especially in Michigan.

The first time or two he went, he came away a little woozy, Mr. Canze said, but “for the most part as long as you eat normally throughout the day you’ll be fine.” He admits that he learned the hard way not to have more than a couple of beers immediately after a BioLife visit. At the beginning of each visit, the company tests your blood, checks your weight, and makes you complete an online screening form. The plasma the company removes is replaced with a saline solution, in which your non-plasma blood components are returned.

What surprises a person, of course, is all a matter of what you’re used to, and I guess I’m not used to plasma sales. Mr. Canze, on the other hand, is nonchalant about it. I asked if I could use his name in writing about the plasma business, and he said yes without hesitating. When I asked a few other students about selling plasma, they weren’t surprised by the question or the concept—one even said she would visit BioLife if she weren’t allergic to the latex used in the tubing through which blood is drawn.

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