Paying Marrow Donors Doesn’t Mean Only Rich People Get Better

Bone marrow donors may soon be able to get paid for sharing.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled unanimously that because the process of donating bone marrow is now so similar to that of donating blood plasma — which people are paid for — bone marrow should no longer be considered an organ for which payment is illegal under the National Organ Transplant Act.

The article goes on to mention supporters of this change as well as those who are against it. Personally, I am a supporter of the change. Those against it most often (according to the article) site the possibility that poorer people will lose access to bone marrow transplants if we allow donors to be paid. While I understand this concern, it ignores one key issue.

We currently have system where individuals donate plasma (they are “compensated for [their] time” – thus the plasma is still donated, although I do not know if this phrasing is always used). People receive monetary compensation when they “donate” plasma, yet to my knowledge low-income individuals have not lost access to plasma or plasma-derived products (please correct me if I am mistaken). My point is that paying people to donate bone marrow through a process similar to plasma donation will not necessary be followed by patients paying for the bone marrow they receive.

If anything, the opportunity for individuals to get paid for donating marrow along with the easier process that is addressed by this decision should result in a much-needed increase in the number of people willing to give. Family members of patients in need will likely continue to get checked to see if they are matches, and the number of strangers willing to donate plasma should go up. That’s a good thing.

From a more academic economic standpoint, what I am saying is that the judge did not authorize the privatization of a marrow market. Rather, he authorized payment to donors. It does not follow that recipients of marrow will necessarily have to pay for said marrow.

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