EARLY in my law practice, one of my clients was a company that loaded and unloaded cargoes of foreign vessels only. The economy was in very bad shape at that time and foreign ships calling at the local port were few and far between. There was therefore not enough work available for the hundreds of stevedores and arrastre men who, being seasonal employees, were paid only for actual days worked, which meant 15 days a month if they were lucky.
I knew that their situation was bad but did not realize how much worse it was than I thought until I overheard a pair teasing each other over their missing teeth. That’s when I learned that many of them resorted to having their teeth extracted so that they could go on paid sick leave. They did not have everything pulled, of course; the average was two teeth extractions per person, one at a time.
I remembered the tooth extractions when I read recently of a supposed plan by healthy people to have themselves infected with Covid-19 so they can sell their plasma once they recover. If they recover.
It is easy for me to believe that there is such a plan because of my personal knowledge of the experience of our tooth-trading cargo handlers. If you can monetize the teeth, then why not the blood?
But something just doesn’t fit. Would an otherwise sane person willingly risk his health by having himself infected with a deadly disease in order to earn money? Have we reached that stage where there is no more line separating desperate from suicidal?
Besides, not everybody can extract blood. Used to be but not anymore because the law has banned the operation of private blood banks. If somebody wants to sell his plasma, it can only happen with the cooperation of the Department of Health or the Red Cross or the private hospitals, which is impossible.
It is these entities that extract blood from the donor and after testing it for the presence of hepatitis, HIV and other transfusion transmissible infections, separate the plasma and store it. In the case of recruited donors, this procedure is usually done by the hospital blood bank. In all cases, the plasma is tested for the presence of adequate level of antibodies before it is administered on the patient.
Of course, nothing can prevent the patient’s family from agreeing on a payment arrangement with the donor that they recruited, but that presupposes that they already know that he has the desired quantity of plasma that the doctors require. But as already stated, only a laboratory can make that determination.
The DOH can do better than just make threats of criminal prosecution by making sure that it has enough plasma available to patients who need them. Patients who recovered from Covid-19 must have at one time or another received government intervention, whether in the form of isolation, quarantine or treatment. They should be grateful enough to help the government provide the same intervention to others.
Times are worse now than when our stevedores exchanged their teeth for cash. But like them who knew that they could sacrifice only so many teeth, even the worst-situated among us know that it is crazy to be suicidal in order to survive.