Fighting the Ban on Compensating Marrow Donors

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

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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26 Responses to “Fighting the Ban on Compensating Marrow Donors”

  1. #1 |  CRNewsom | 

    Fellow agitatees:

    Regardless of the outcome of this congressional vote, if any of you (or friends/family) require bone marrow, I would be more than willing to volunteer to get tested to see if I am a match. I’m not really doing anything with it right now anyway…


    /I shouldn’t have to state it, but I will: you cover all expenses related to the medical and travel. For food, I’m cheap, Taco Bell will do.

  2. #2 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    As I get older, I know it is coming. The day someone I love (or me) needs a body part and political morality gets in the way between two consenting adults…and someone dies. In my dream I turn green and smash puny Congress. In reality I know I’ll effectively circulate a petition*.

    *Don’t want to say anything that gets government heroes coming after me.

  3. #3 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Laws against paying people for organs or marrow are like a campaign that encourages middle and upper class people actively locate distressed poor people, perhaps by hanging out at thrift stores or cruising inner city slums and then kicking them over and over as hard as possible in the nuts while yelling, “I’m doing this for your own good!”

    The bottom line is that the saintly medical industry is vehemently opposed to those soulless greedy scum who would exploit the sick by profiting off of the cure.

    Hahahaha! If there were a world prize for being full of shit, I would so be a contender.

  4. #4 |  Aresen | 

    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.

  5. #5 |  The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » The Institute for Justice Challenges Unjust Law Banning Compensation for Bone Marrow | 

    […] Tip: The Agitator Share and […]

  6. #6 |  BamBam | 

    I’m sure some government types, by way of their associations with lobbyists/corporations, are making money off of your bodily donations, just as others in the process are making money. I do not believe for a minute that no one is monetarily benefiting from a bodily donation.

  7. #7 |  Michael | 

    Walter Williams asks a good question. Why does everybody involved in the organ donor/transplant process get to make money except for the donor?

    Most donor organs come from an untimely death. Offering the donor’s family some compensation to offset the cost related to the death could free up more organs. Note: The donor should agree to donate organs prior to death. We don’t want family members putting their recently departed on ebay.

  8. #8 |  Zargon | 

    We don’t want family members putting their recently departed on ebay.

    At the risk of sounding like the cold insensitive bastard I am, why not?

    If the recently deceased specified no wishes either way, I’d say the body is part of the estate, to be disposed of as the inheritors wish. Of course, if the recently deceased did specify wishes, then, just like with any other part of the estate, those wishes come first.

    Bottom line, if greedy stepson Johnny who never visited and doesn’t bother at the funeral either puts aunt Martha on ebay to fund his crack habit, more people will be alive at the end of the day vs just burying aunt Martha.

  9. #9 |  Victor Milán | 

    Clearly, the State must control bone marrow transplants, so that it can make sure the most deserving profit: those who either constitute the State or support it most effectively. Like everything else.

    There’s the real state of bipartisanship, if you like. Or if you don’t.

  10. #10 |  Aresen | 

    | Michael | October 28th, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Note: The donor should agree to donate organs prior to death. We don’t want family members putting their recently departed on ebay.

    Actually, I have a few living family members I’d be willing to put on eBay.

  11. #11 |  Aresen | 

    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.

  12. #12 |  Largo | 

    As someone who has donated marrow, I can say that compensation would have been a nice gesture, but its absence (clearly) didn’t change my decision.

    That being said, it was a painful procedure, and not a quick recovery. But I’d still do it again, given the chance.

  13. #13 |  john | 

    i’d do it for free if the doctors would do it for free.

    i’m kidding. i just wanted to make a point. it’s my body, not the State’s body. State, butt out!!!

  14. #14 |  Dr. T | 

    People have been compensated for blood product donations for decades. When I needed money in grad school, I got paid for my platelets. (The process took 3-4 hours back then.)

    Bans on donating blood began in the mid-1980s with worries about HIV. There was fear that people would lie about their activities (IV drug use, male-male sex, travel to Haiti, etc.) so they could give blood and be paid.

    Would the same thing occur with bone marrow? Unlikely. The need is infrequent, so having marrow harvested would never become a regular source of cash. The procedure is time-consuming, somewhat painful, and carries more risks than blood donation.

    I believe that paying for bone marrow collections make sense. Those who don’t want compensation can donate the money to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society or some other charity. We do not have enough marrow donors, so if payments will help, I’m all for them.

  15. #15 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Consider the fact that the medical industry is one of the few industries untouched by the current economic crisis, consistently has growth in the double digits, and has been granted almost total protection from market forces.

    Now consider the ethic that allows everyone in that industry to make a huge profit while the actual donor of the life-saving element is forced out of the deal by law.

    As one additional factor, think of all the people who die every year waiting for transplants that never come simply because there is no incentive for donation.

    Now, put yourself in the shoes of one of those who never found a donor in time. You weren’t executed for a crime you didn’t commit. You weren’t beaten to death because you were gay or black. You weren’t gassed for being a Jew. But you’re just as dead and the people who put you there are just as much to blame.

  16. #16 |  Al V | 

    is anyone against this?

  17. #17 |  tjbbpgobIII | 

    The wealthy seem to always jump the line when it comes to transplants though, don’t they. A certain centerfielder come immediately to mind.

  18. #18 |  JThompson | 

    Preventing compensation for marrow/organ donors is one of those things that actually makes a sense until you think about it for a few minutes. Then it becomes obvious it’s in the realm of fixing poverty by giving everyone a million dollars.

    My feelings on buying/selling organs/marrow are the same as drugs, abortion, and prostitution. It’s your body and the government can bugger off.

    The only organ/tissue/marrow donation that should be prohibited is parents selling off chunks of their kids.

    @Dr. T: I’ve often wondered if requesting a donation to charity in exchange for donating an organ or marrow would be considered “compensation”.

  19. #19 |  jb | 

    “If we allow compensation then poor people will sell their bodies off to benefit rich people. It will lead to organ-farming. Yadda yadda yadda.”

    I have honestly heard this.

  20. #20 |  Dave Krueger | 

    A dead body has value if its organs can be harvested and it should be within the power of a person to will his body to whomever he wants, just as he can leave anything else of value to others. If he can trade the rights to his body for cash before he’s dead, there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, the only thing immoral is the State’s belief that it can outlaw that exchange, thereby explicitly robbing someone of the value of their own organs in addition to condemning the potential beneficiary of those organs to death.

    The State has made a deal with the medical industry to cut the donor out of the action. If anyone else were to do that, it would be called conspiracy to defraud. But, when you’re the government, you can call it morality and, just as if you declared 2+2=5, the automatons mindlessly nod their heads up and down as they blankly stare off into space with glassy eyed unawareness. This is one of those arguments that is so obvious with even the most superficial reflection that one would almost have to be insane to support the State’s position.

  21. #21 |  Dave Undis | 

    As the death toll from the organ shortage mounts, public opinion will eventually support a legal organ market. Changes in public policy will then follow.

    In the mean time, there is an already-legal way to put a big dent in the organ shortage — allocate donated organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die. UNOS, which manages the national organ allocation system, has the power to make this simple policy change. No legislative action is required.

    Americans who want to donate their organs to other registered organ donors don’t have to wait for UNOS to act. They can join LifeSharers, a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

    Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. Non-donors should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs.

  22. #22 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    (Ignoring live-donation cases for now)

    One of the major problems with the transplant system is that relatives objections can overrule the expressed wishes of someone who’s a donor. They even changed the law in the UK in 2006 to explictly make the donor’s wishes paramount, but this is still commonly ignored!

  23. #23 |  Hannah | 

    Dave Undis
    “They can join LifeSharers, a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die.”

    Dave I hate to tell you this but the first organ donors organs may not be eligible for use due to the drugs they have to take to prevent bodily rejections of the donated organ/organs. There’s a reason why heart transplants have a survival rate of about 5 years.

    A lot of donated organs are currently effectively tossed already due to health of the patient at death. Cant reuse a heart that needs a bypass, cant use a body that’s infected with diseases/cancer, cant use a diabetics organs ect. Diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and morbidly obese, cant use the organs. They may still be able to use tissue. Example: veins, heart valves. It’s a nice idea but I’d check on if they can even reuse third time around parts.

  24. #24 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #23 Hannah

    “They can join LifeSharers, a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die.”

    Interesting concept. In fact, that gives me an idea. Who wants to join my new non-profit donor network where we promise that your organs will only go to people who are not members of Congress?

    Wait, that wouldn’t work. Congress would just make that illegal (claiming it to be immoral).

  25. #25 |  bbartlog | 

    A certain centerfielder come immediately to mind.

    Don’t forget Steve Jobs (liver?). Also I believe the now-deceased Governor Casey of Pennsylvania (liver again).

    I would donate for reasonable compensation. I’d also derive satisfaction from helping someone, but having everyone else involved profit while I’m expected to do it out of the goodness of my heart irks me enough that I wouldn’t do it for free. I refuse to donate blood for the same reason – I’ll do it when the hospital doesn’t charge for the blood (which will never happen).

  26. #26 |  Valentine Joseph | 

    Why are there sooo many dumb laws out there? It bugles my mind that the federal government can basically force us to make tough decisions when there is a possibility of a market that could be far more efficient than the current situation. If someone is willing, with the proper incentives, to donate a limb or body part, why are we keeping them from doing so? Incomprehensible.