Bone Marrow Donors Can be Paid Like Blood Donors, Court Says

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on December 13, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Most bone marrow donors can now get paid for their donation, thanks to a federal appeals court decision that advocates say will help save countless lives.

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has held that advances in medical technology now make bone marrow donations more akin to donating blood, The Los Angeles Times reports. As with other types of blood donations, bone marrow donors can now accept compensation, the court said.

Previously, bone marrow had been classified as an organ donation under the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act. The law bars organ donors from receiving money or "valuable consideration."

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit declined to invalidate the law. Instead, Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld, writing for the court, said the modern method of bone-marrow donation is legally different from what the 1984 law aimed to ban, The Wall Street Journal explains.

When the 1984 act was passed, bone marrow donors had to undergo a tedious and painful surgical process to extract their bone marrow. The process, called aspiration, involved sticking a large needle into a donor's hip bone to remove the marrow.

Today, bone marrow donation is much less intrusive, the judges found. A new method called apheresis allows doctors to capture bone-marrow stem cells from a donor's bloodstream, instead of having to pierce the bone. For donors, apheresis is as simple as getting blood drawn.

Videos on YouTube show how the simple the process has become, such as this one from the National Cancer Institute:

Justice Department lawyers who argued against the new bone-marrow interpretation declined to comment, according to the Journal.

The bone marrow ruling is a landmark in the battle against blood diseases, Jeff Rowes, an attorney who argued the case on behalf of cancer patients, told the Times. Allowing donors to get paid "will expand the donor pool by at least hundreds and potentially thousands each year."

That's a hopeful sign for the thousands of patients waiting for bone marrow transplants. About 3,000 patients die each year because a match can't be found.

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