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General Health Channel
Reported November 6, 2012

Transplanting Life: Selling Yourself? -- Research Summary

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."

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