Organ transplants

Fighting the Federal Ban on Compensating Marrow Donors


The merry band of libertarian litigators at the Institute for Justice have a new crusade: Ending the ban on compensating bone marrow donors.

Every year, 1,000 Americans die because they cannot find a matching bone marrow donor.  Minorities are hit especially hard.  Common sense suggests that offering modest incentives to attract more bone marrow donors would be worth pursuing, but federal law makes that a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

That is why on October 28, 2009, adults with deadly blood diseases, the parents of sick children, a California nonprofit and a world-renowned medical doctor who specializes in bone marrow research joined with the Institute for Justice to sue the U.S. Attorney General to put an end to a ban on offering compensation to bone marrow donors.

Compensating a marrow donor in any way is a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison. The suit states that marrow was improperly included in the (also wrongheaded) federal ban on organ donation, and instead should be covered by laws governing replenishable tissue like blood, sperm, or plasma, which allow for compensation.

The ban seems particularly odious given that marrow donation is a fairly uncomfortable process, and that marrow donors have to be living to donate. People in need of a marrow transplant who don't find a match among friends or relatives, then, have to rely on strangers willing to give up a significant amount of time, comfort, and expense to participate in a transplant for someone they've never met. It's an ill-considered policy that is unquestionably killing people.

Congress could vote tomorrow to repeal the ban on compensating marrow donors. That would save the claimants and the federal government the money they'll spend litigating this case, and it would probably save several hundred or so lives that would have been lost while the case makes its way through the courts.

Here's IJ's video explaining the suit:

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  1. […] but federal law makes that [selling your own marrow] a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

    Maybe one day people will realize that selling waht you OWN should not be illegal. Selling your own body parts is not an intrinsic evil (malum in se), so why is it made illegal by the all-powerful, over reaching Stat…. oh, right.

  2. My brother’s girlfriend is a pretty committed feminist. She’s completely pro choice, but thinks prostitution should be curbed … by law. My body, my choice is selectively applied by people like her. Until we can convince people that they own their bodies, which implies the right to sell your body (sexually, for blood, or whatever) it’s going to be an uphill battle.

  3. but thinks prostitution should be curbed … by law

    It should be because it degrades all women.

    1. Seems like you have not read Vamps and Tramps.

    2. Nah, it only degrades some women….namely those who wish to be degraded in exchange for a fistful of dollars.

    3. Degrading oneself should be a choice. However, prostitution opens the door for others to abuse and degrade women, which is not a choice for the abused. The only way to resolve that is for prostitution to be a legal job with laws to protect its workers.

  4. This is an especially stupid law considering that it’s not a permanent loss – your body recreates the bone marrow.

  5. I am on the bone marrow donor list and will be glad to donate if I ever get the call.

    I personally do not care if there is compensation or not. Frankly, I would be so high on the fact that I was actually, provably saving another person’s life that any other compensation would be meaningless.

    TBS, if it gets more people on the donor list, I’m in favor of offering financial compensation. Bone Marrow donations are so carefully screened for a match and to eliminate the possibility of disease transmission, that I do not think there is any real hazard in terms of unsuitable donors coming forward and getting through the screening.

    1. My husband and I are on the list, too. And, as it happens, my mother needs a BMT… Neither of us is a match, but maybe you are!

      I don’t care about compensation, either, but if it helps bring more donors, it should be available.

      Imagine offering donors the choice to decline compensation. Now that would be nice!

  6. Hello, guys, obvious solution: compulsory contributions! If it’s good enough for health insurance, it’s good enough for bone marrow.

  7. I don’t get it. What is the motive for this law? It like the feds have issues with people living or something.

    1. The argument goes: The poor, unable to catch a break, will be pressured into an uncomfortable donation of bone marrow just to make ends meet financially. Therefore we must make it illegal to protect them.

      Just saying it makes me want to wash my hands.

      1. we will do everything in our power to make sure the dying die and the poor stay poor

        1. good one!

      2. So what. I work like hell to make ends meet. Donating bone marrow is not that hard!

  8. Is prostitution degrading to a woman if she’s the one holding the whip?

  9. From the article:

    Every year, 1,000 Americans die because they cannot find a matching bone marrow donor.


    If you are healthy and eligible (pretty well anyone eligible to give blood is also eligible as a bone marrow donor), I stronly urge you to put yourself on the donor list. Your local blood donor clinic or any hospital will be glad to give you the information on how to get on the list.

    You may never get a call, but if you do, you will almost certainly be someone’s last chance to stay alive. It is really that important.

    Being on the list does not obligate you to be a donor. (There are risks.) If you are called, you can decline, but I don’t believe you will if called.

    1. in fact you don’t even need to go anywhere. Search for the bone marrow registry on the web, and register. the will send you a swab kit by mail that you just return by mail. Also the web site has a list of drives in various cities.

  10. If marrow doners can’t be compensated, then why are sperm doners compensated?

    1. because sperm provide babies for he future. many governments support and compensate those who choose to reproduce.

  11. BTW IRTFA, but wanted to work on my handle some…

  12. If you are healthy and eligible (pretty well anyone eligible to give blood is also eligible as a bone marrow donor), I stronly urge you to put yourself on the donor list.

    What’s in it for me?


  13. Indeed, please put yourself on the list. My mother is a Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant nurse at Duke.

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