Tess Vigeland: And finally this week, we were talking in our story meeting about the current blood shortage at the American Red Cross. Which got one of our reporters thinking about the value of blood. And then, the value of all the rest of our body parts and fluids.
Marketplace's Adriene Hill joins me now in studio-to give "personal finance" a whole new meaning. Hi Adriene.
Adriene Hill: Hi Tess.
Vigeland: So what do you have for me?
Hill: Well, the tough economy has people thinking of all sorts of ways to make money, including selling pieces and bits of them self.
Here's a clip from the TV show "Modern Family." And just to set this up a little, a young boy comes into the room holding a toy musical organ.
Luke Dunphy: Hey dad, I think I just found a place online to sell this organ. Can you drive me to the black market?
Phil Dunphy: I think they mean a different kind of organ, buddy.
Claire Dunphy: Sweetie, while are you trying to sell that?
Luke In case things with dad's job get even worse.
Hill and Vigeland laugh
Vigeland: Kind of funny. Kind of sad. Anyways, what'd you find? Which of my body parts can I sell, should I need or want to do this?
Hill: Legally, in the real of legal here?
Vigeland: Yes please.
Hill: OK. We'll start with the least stomach-churning, Tess: Your hair. You could lop it off and sell it.
Vigeland: For any real money?
Hill: Have you dyed it?
Vigeland: Am I going to announce this publicly? Um, yes. I call it "enhanced dishwater blond."
Hill: Your colorist is a genius Tess, but, no good for selling your hair. The market for human hair is best for hair that is uncolored and un-permed. Long, untreated locks -- flowy, shiny -- can fetch hundreds of dollars actually. A lot of people want the hair they don't have. Here's a clip from Chris Rock's documentary called "Good Hair," about African American hair:
Chris Rock: What's in your hair now?
Montage of women and girls: This is a weave. This is a weave. Two pieces here. You know like extensions. Like that.
Hill: And it turns out India is one of the biggest suppliers of hair.
Vigeland: Who knew. So back to what else we can sell of ourselves?
Hill: Blood is interesting. There isn't a market for paid blood donations in the U.S.
Vigeland: Why is that?
Hill: There's a concern that if people can get paid for giving blood, you might attract a population of donors -- including addicts, people who need cash right away -- that you don't really want blood from. So right now, even though blood is valuable, and even though the hospital will charge you a lot for blood if you need it -- it's not worth anything to the donor, other than a cookie or so. But, you can sell plasma for 40 or 50 bucks a week. Or you could be a living guinea pig -- Tess, it's your big chance -- and participate in medical tests.
Vigeland: Oh that sounds really pleasant.
Hill: You can let doctors stick you and poke you and watch you sleep. But again, it's probably not a way to get wealthy.
Vigeland: No and probably not a way to get healthy either, it sounds like. Alright, so where's the big money?
Hill: Eggs Tess. It's all about the eggs. Couples looking to get pregnant will pay a whole lot of money for eggs from the right donor. We're talking five, or even $10,000. But to fetch the big money, you've got to be smart, healthy, and young.
Vigeland: Uh, I have two out of three of those.
Hill: Tess, I'm no fertility clinic, but I guess we're both probably not the spring chickens the clinics are looking for.
Vigeland: The babies would come out with back aches and walking sticks.
Vigeland Hill laugh
Hill: And, while we're talking reproduction, we might as well talk about sperm.
Vigeland: Sperm it is. How much money for that?
Hill: Here in California, a single sperm donation will fetch from around $60-100. And the nice thing is you can give over and over and over if you're a guy, at least as long as the sperm bank wants your sperm. Again, they're looking for donors who match that smart, healthy and young profile.
Vigeland: Ah yes. So, anything else people can sell of themselves to make money?
Hill: Yeah, I was surprised by this next one: Human breast milk.
Hill: Yeah. There are websites online where women sell milk for a dollar or two an ounce.
Vigeland: And that's still in the range of legal?
Hill: In most states it is. There aren't federal laws against it, the FDA doesn't regulate it. But they definitely advise against it.
So does Pauline Sakamoto, who runs a milk bank, where they take and test donated milk before sending it on to babies that need it. She says the less-structured online breast milk market is one to avoid.
Pauline Sakamoto: Buying human milk online or causal sharing is risky. The reason why is that you don't know the quality of the milk.
Hill: Yeah, you don't know is it even human milk? I mean, if somebody online just was like "I'll send you my breast milk." You don't know if it's human milk, if it's clean or if it's safe.
Vigeland: Alright, so what can you not sell?
Hill: Organs, Tess. Federal law makes it illegal to sell organs for money -- including kidneys, lungs, bone marrow, eyes and skin.
Vigeland: No exceptions here. Nothing.
Hill: Not in the U.S. You can donate organs and the recipient can pay expenses. But they can't money for the organ itself The idea is that we don't want to incentivize people in a tight spot to sell away a piece of themselves. There are people out there who think those laws should be changed. They argue that it paying people for healthy organs could end up saving a lot of lives.
Vigeland: Alright. So just to sum this one up, you can sell...
Hill: Hair, plasma, eggs, sperm, breast milk and your body for medical experiments.
Vigeland: Got it. Thanks Adriene.
Hill: No skin off my back.
Vigeland: Oh gross.