Blood money?: Lawyers and patients argue bone marrow should be saleable

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Last week the Los Angeles Times reported on a fascinating ongoing legal saga: a three-judge panel of a federal appellate court is now considering the latest motions from the Institute for Justice, a Libertarian legal foundation, which is challenging laws prohibiting individuals from selling their bone marrow.

The Institute is undertaking the case on behalf of three sets of plaintiffs: a mother with three children in need of life-saving bone marrow transplants, a doctor specializing in these transplants and a father whose daughter has already passed away while waiting for one.

The relevant statute, the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, includes bone marrow among the list of human tissue and organs which cannot be sold. Violators of the act face prosecution and penalties ranging up to five years in prison and fines of up to $50,000.

Critics of the law argue that the offer of small financial incentives would increase the number of people willing to undergo the sometimes quite painful procedure of having their marrow extracted. And it would almost certainly increase the number of people undergoing blood tests to place themselves on the national donor database. Currently 1,000 people each year die in the U.S. because they cannot find a tissue type match, although eight million Americans are on the national registry.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross puts forward a further criticism of the present law. “It’s not just that letting people get a few thousand dollars of payment would lift the population of donors. There’s also the question of why you shouldn’t be able to sell marrow for a small sum,” he notes. “Bone marrow is a completely regenerative substance, like blood. This isn’t akin to selling an organ. And I’m definitely sure the extraction would bother most donors less if they got some reasonable compensation for it.”