Should you be allowed to sell organs?

Posted: July 4, 2012 at 4:18 am

Some worry that a ruling giving donors the ability to sell their bone-marrow tissue will encourage legal sale of other body parts.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

(Time.com) -- How much would it take for you to consider selling your bone marrow? A U.S. appeals court puts the price at about $3,000 in a ruling that now makes it legal to pay donors for their bone-marrow tissue.

The court's decision may well help thousands of sick patients who need bone-marrow transplants to survive, but it also begs the question, What other body parts might next be up for sale?

The ruling came about at the end of 2011, in a decision to an October 2009 lawsuit brought by a group of cancer patients, parents and bone-marrow-donation advocates against the government over the federal law banning the buying and selling of bodily organs. The plaintiffs were led by Doreen Flynn, who has three daughters who suffer from Fanconi anemia, a blood disorder that requires bone-marrow transplants to treat.

Flynn and the other plaintiffs said that too many such patients die waiting for transplants and argued that we should be allowed to pay people to donate their marrow as a way of ensuring a more reliable supply. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed.

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At the core of the plaintiffs' argument was the National Organ Transplantation Act (NOTA), which since 1984 has forbid the buying and selling of human organs, including bone marrow. But new developments in bone-marrow extraction have made marrow donation not much different from donating blood.

Traditionally, bone-marrow donation required anesthesia and long needles to extract the marrow from the hip bones of donors. Now, a technique called peripheral apheresis allows doctors to extract blood stem cells directly from the blood, instead of the bone -- patients first take a drug that pulls stem cells from the bone and into the blood -- meaning that the marrow cells should be considered a fluid like blood, rather than an organ, the plaintiffs argued. NOTA doesn't prohibit payments for blood or other fluids, such as plasma or semen.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder decided not to ask the Supreme Court to review the appellate court's decision, which would have been the next step in overturning it. That means the ruling stands -- and that people can now be paid up to $3,000 for their marrow, as long as it is collected by apheresis. In a concession to the spirit of NOTA, however, the compensation can't be in cash; it needs to be in the form of a voucher that can be applied to things such as scholarships, education, housing or a donation to a charity.

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Should you be allowed to sell organs?

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