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: