There are 15 collection facilities straddling the USA/Mexico border, where the poor are connected to machines that suck the liquid part of their blood (plasma) from their veins. The USA is one of the few countries that allow donors to be paid, and, even here, donors are told they are being paid for their time, not their plasma, which is a ‘donation’.
Thousands of poor Mexicans travel to these facilities to sell their plasma for $30 to companies who make $300 from the products they extract from it – treatments for immune deficiencies and haemophilia. Many make the journey twice a week.
This is a relatively small part of a $12 billion plasma products business. There are many blood extraction centres in the USA, often located in areas of extreme poverty. The USA supplies more than half of the world’s plasma. The UK is heavily dependent on this supply. This is because from 1985 to 1996 Conservative ministers and their civil servant lackeys ran a regime in which junior scientists were ordered to rewrite scientific papers which might have suggested that scrapie, the brain disease which affects sheep, could be passed from cattle, fed on infected sheep, to beef-eating humans. Human health was secondary to profit, as it still was when beef products in the UK were recently found to contain horsemeat, some of which was mixed with beef so old and green that migrant Polish workers near Rotterdam, who processed it, had to tie towels around their face to stop themselves being sick. This is not to suggest that the supermarket chains which sold adulterated beefburgers and lasagnas knew what they were being supplied with, it is to suggest that they did not trouble themselves enough to know.
In not so leafy suburbs, steel tanks, two stories high, filled with yellowish plasma from thousands of ‘donors’, are gently stirred by giant blades. The few corporations who own this ‘liquid gold’ have been subject to class-action lawsuits by hospitals, which alledge industry collusion has driven up prices of plasma products.
Germany allows people to give plasma 38 times a year, compared with 104 in the United States. Why might the former figure be the more appropriate? The primary component of blood plasma is a protein called albumin, and the idea that constantly extracting this over many years is harmless is debatable. Any infection or disease process will be marked by a diminished level of albumin in the blood, yet concerns raised by long-term donors are dismissed.
Many American ‘donors’ are from the ranks of the able-bodied poor, a despised class, who receive the least from America’s welfare programs. 12 million adult Americans of working age, with no children at home, were living below the poverty line in 2011. Most Medicaid spending goes on the elderly and disabled, and ends up in the pockets of the private corporations which provide vastly overcharging healthcare services. Suspicion of the workless is constantly being fed by the right-wing media, which seeks to make scapegoats of the able-bodied (i.e. ‘undeserving’) poor. Conservative critiques of the welfare state as a source of debilitating dependency, as well as widespread claims of fraud, erode support for cash assistance to those who are portrayed as ‘lazy beggars’.
One of these American ‘lazy beggars’, who barely survives by ‘donating’ his plasma, took a two bus journey, then walked several miles to a distribution centre of an international corporation, to be told he would not be offered a zero hour job. Another desperate ‘donor’ contemplated giving up her child for adoption. These ‘lazy beggars’ are not paid if they feel faint and have to stop having plasma removed, even if the process is almost complete. So much for the damned lie of them being payed for their time.
The UK government sold an 80% stake in the NHS blood supply service in 2013 to Bain Capital, a private equity company which uses leveraged buyouts – borrowing large amounts of money to buy a company, then placing this debt on the company itself. David Cameron, in his role as the prime spokesman of such pirate capitalism, lied in May 2011 when he said (about the NHS) “Let me be clear – there will be no privatisation, there will be no cherry-picking from private providers”. This is exactly what has happened, a fact not reported in TV news, which tends to divert minds with more trivial stories of who is sleeping with who, in the physical sense, that is, rather than a political one.
The poor have been sold to corporate vampires. They lay behind blackened windows, on tables with bloody tubes sticking out of their veins. I recall the words of Karl Marx, written in 1867: ‘Capital … vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour … and lives the more, the more labour it sucks … the vampire will not lose its hold … so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited’.
Corporations are also involved in the ‘egg donation’ industry, which extracts eggs from poor, young females, reselling them for use in commercial production of children. Egg removal procedures are invasive and dangerous, a recent post mortem of one ‘doner’ stating she had ‘one abrasion, four contusions and a blood clot in the head, plus six injection marks’ as well as ‘congestion in the ovaries and uterus’. These transactions are not ‘donations’. Young, desperately poor females in countries like India and the USA are prey to capitalist exploitation. The health dangers to woman who donate eggs are well known, as detailed by Kathleen Sloan, a human rights advocate – ‘Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome from the profusion of synthetic hormones and fertility drugs such as estrogen (linked to breast and uterine cancers, heart attack, stroke, and blood clots), and progesterone they are injected with; ovarian torsion; and kidney disease’. Egg ‘doners’ are commodities. The infertility industry knows the seriousness of the health risks, but objects to regulation, so as to protect profits. Doctors and nurses should not taint themselves and their professions by being party to such useage.
The vampire (of corporate capitalism) will not loose its hold as long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood, an egg to be exploited.
The stake of revolution should be driven through its heart.
lenin nightingale 2014