This year more than 130,000 Americans will be diagnosed with a serious blood disorder. Many of them will need a bone marrow transplant to survive.
But for 70 percent of these patients that means relying on a stranger to donate their marrow. At least 1,000 people die each year because they can't find that donor. So, should bone marrow be for sale?
When she found out her daughter Jordan needed a life-saving bone marrow transplant, she would have paid any amount for a donor.
"She could have passed away," said Doreen Flynn who’s daughter needed a transplant.
Jordan has a rare genetic blood disorder. No one in her family was a match, so Doreen had to rely on a national registry.
"You're basically putting your faith in the system,” said Flynn.
After two months of waiting, Jordan did find a match. But her younger twin sisters have the same disorder and will also need transplants. A match for them might not happen as fast, or even at all.
Jeff Rowes, with the Institute for Justice, teamed up with the Flynns and others to challenge the National Organ Transplant Act, an almost 30-year-old law that prohibited compensating bone marrow donors.
"If you want more of something, you provide money for it," explains the Senior Attorney for the Institute for Justice Jeff Rowes.
Just this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with Rowes.
Now, for the first time, bone marrow donors can be compensated in nine states. But the National Marrow Donor Program disagrees.
In a statement, they said, "Paying marrow donors creates a multitude of problems and will not help more patients receive transplants."
"Just because you can sell something, doesn't mean you ought to," says Kenneth Goodman, PhD, a Professor and Director of Bioethics at the University of Miami.
Bioethicist Kenneth Goodman says, at this time, there is not a good compensation plan in place.
"If bone marrow is for sale, does that mean that only people that can afford to buy it are going to get it," says Goodman.
But Doreen expects it will give patients, maybe even her own kids, a better chance at finding a match.
"I just want them to have the chance to have a normal, healthy life," says Flynn.
The ruling by the Ninth Circuit applies only to bone marrow donors who donate through the most common method, having blood cells drawn from the arm.
It is still illegal to compensate for bone marrow taken from the hip, just like it's illegal to pay for organs.
Moremarrowdonors.org is conducting a test to determine whether financial incentives will increase marrow donors. They will provide donors with a $3,000 stipend, which is funded by charitable supporters, not paid for by the patients.
BACKGROUND: According to the Institute for Justice, more than 130,000 Americans will be diagnosed with a serious blood disease this year. Leukemia will strike 44,000 Americans, including 3,500 children. Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer. It will kill about half of the adults and about 700 of the children. For many of these patients, a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor may be the best or only hope for a cure. One problem is a significant number of those on the national bone marrow registry cannot be located or will not donate when asked to do so. According to the National Marrow Donor Program, about 70 percent of patients in need of a transplant do not have a matching donor in their family. African Americans find a donor about 40 percent of the time, while Caucasian patients find a donor about 75 percent of the time.
PAYING FOR MARROW? This year, lawyers with the Institute for Justice teamed up with families around the country to challenge the National Organ Transplant Act -- an almost 30-year old law that prohibited compensating bone marrow donors along with organ donors. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that bone marrow donors can now be compensated in nine states for donating by apheresis - which means they donate the marrow by having blood cells drawn from the arm. It is still illegal to compensate when bone marrow is taken from the hip. Rowes argued that bone marrow, unlike organs, is a renewable part of the body. He believes allowing for compensation will expand the pool of donors. "On any given day, there are thousands of people who are in search of bone marrow," Rowes told Ivanhoe. "We believe that it is constitutionally irrational to prohibit people from donating immature blood cells for compensation."
OPPOSING VIEWS: The National Marrow Donor Program believes paying for donors creates more problems than solutions. They say the National Organ Transplant Act protects the safety of patients and donors, and compensation puts both at risk. They believe paying donors will limit treatment options. In a recent article, a spokesperson from the NMDP was quoted as saying, "Decades of experience and research show that a volunteer donor system saves more lives than a system in which donors are motivated by money. Paying donors goes against the best interests of the patients and donors we serve. For these and other reasons, the NMDP opposes paying donors and does not intend to change its policies on compensation."
For More Information, Contact:
Institute for Justice