Bone Marrow Bounty Hunters

Amit Gupta has leukemia and needs to find a  bone-marrow transplant. Gupta is the founder of the do-it-yourself photography site Photojojo and the collaborative-working community Jelly and many of his high-tech friends have jumped to his aid including Seth Godin. Here’s Virginia Postrel:

[Godin offered] to pay $10,000 to anyone who became a match for Gupta and made the stem-cell donation, or to give the money to that person’s favorite charity. The offer, he says, was “a chance to say to my readers, ‘Hey, I care about this. A lot. Money where my mouth is.’”

He picked $10,000 because, he says, it’s “enough money to matter to both the giver and the recipient, without being enough money to sue over, cheat over or corrupt.”

Gupta’s friend Michael Galpert, one of the co-founders of the photo-editing site, quickly matched Godin’s offer. “I would do anything that could contribute to helping save his life,” he says.

With $20,000 at stake, the cause did indeed take on new urgency….There was only one problem. The offer was illegal.

Paying a marrow donor is currently illegal under the same law that makes paying organ donors illegal, despite the fact that marrow donation (technically blood stem cells from marrow) is much more like blood donation or egg donation than donating a kidney. (To avoid the law Godin has modified his offer.) Fortunately, the law might be overturned.

In February, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban on valuable consideration for bone-marrow donations. The suit was brought by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm, on behalf of plaintiffs who include patients, parents of sick children, a doctor who does bone- marrow transplants and a charity that would like to offer incentives, such as scholarships, to encourage more donations.

The lawsuit argues that since marrow cell transplants aren’t significantly different from blood transfusions, the federal government has no “rational basis” for outlawing the kind of compensation that is perfectly legal not only for blood but also for other regenerating tissues, such as hair and sperm, not to mention eggs, which don’t regenerate. This disparate treatment of essentially similar processes, it maintains, violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. A decision could come down any day.


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