Excellent news; yesterday the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a unanimous opinion stating that compensation for bone marrow donation, specifically peripheral blood stem cell apheresis, is legal because such donation does not fall under the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA).
The case was simple and it’s outrageous that the government fought. In brief, a bone marrow donation used to require inserting a very big needle into the donor’s hip bone, a painful hospital-procedure often requiring general anesthesia. Today, however, donors typically do not donate marrow but hematopoietic stem cells which can be harvested directly from blood in a procedure that takes a little longer but is essentially similar to a standard blood donation. Compensation for blood is legal (blood is excluded as an organ under NOTA). The plaintiffs, led by the Institute for Justice, argued and the court agreed that there is no rational basis for outlawing one type of blood donation when a similar donation is legal.
I was shocked by the utter boneheadedness of one of the government’s arguments:
…the government argues that because it is much harder to find a match for patients who need bone marrow transplants than for patients who need blood transfusions, exploitative market forces could be triggered if bone marrow could be bought.
In other words, markets are forbidden just when they are most useful. It was in fact the patients with rare matches who brought this case. As the court noted:
…a physician and medical school professor…says that at least one out of five of his patients dies because no matching bone marrow donor can be found, and many others have complications when scarcity of matching donors compels him to use imperfectly matched donors. One plaintiff is a parent of mixed race children, for whom sufficiently matched donors are especially scarce, because mixed race persons typically have the rarest marrow cell types.
The patients with the most common cell types can afford to rely on the kindness of strangers. You don’t need a lot of kindness when there are a lot of strangers. The patients who are most difficult to match need to leverage altruism with incentive. It’s a lesson with many applications.