LOS ANGELES (CN) – People suffering from leukemia, anemia and other diseases that can be treated with bone marrow transplants should be allowed to receive transplanted cells from donors who are paid for it, patients, doctors, and parents of sick children say in Federal Court. Transplant cells for minority groups are particularly needed, yet “providing a $3,000 scholarship for a Hispanic college student for donating bone marrow is a major federal crime,” the complaint states.
Dr. John Wagner, a bone marrow transplant specialist, and MoreMarrowDonors.org sued Attorney General Eric Holder on behalf of a program that would pay bone marrow donors who register with the national registry and donate cells.
The plaintiffs want compensation to be allowed in any of three forms: a $3,000 scholarship, a housing allowance, or a donation to a charity of the donor’s choice.
MoreMarrowDonors.org’s plan to offer strategic compensation to minority marrow-cell donors is considered organ selling under the National Organ Transplant Act.
The concern is that a “market” for organs will develop. But plaintiffs say this is impossible with marrow cells because patients need to be paired with perfectly matching cells.
Marrow cells should not be defined as “human organs,” the plaintiffs say.
Plaintiff Kumud Majumder who has an 11-year-old son with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a prominent childhood cancer. Despite chemotherapy that brought a short period of remission, the cancer entered the boy’s brain and testicles and caused him to begin going blind.
He had a bone marrow transplant from a poorly matched donor because no perfect match could be found. He may need a second transplant from a different donor, but there is no known match.
Bone marrow cells regenerate, so unlike donating a kidney, the donor will not go through life without an organ lost to donation. Donating marrow cells is more akin to donating blood then an organ, the complaint states.
Blood stem cells are harvested from the donor in a noninvasive procedure. “Over the last 25 years, more than 35,000 marrow-cell donations have taken place in the United States between strangers without a single donor death,” according to the complaint
The program seeks minority donors because finding matches is difficult for them. Minorities generally have more diverse genetic structures then Caucasians and tend to donate less often, making them extremely valuable as donors.
The donor and the recipient must be deeply genetically similar or the donor’s cells will attack the recipient’s body. Patients who receive unmatched transplants do so as a last resort. Most suffer lifelong complications or do not survive, the complaint states.
Also parties to the suit are Doreen Flynn, Mike Hamel, Mark Hachey, and Akim Deshay. Three of Flynn’s six daughters suffer from Fanconi anemia, a rare and deadly genetic blood disorder that causes bone marrow failure in the teen years. All three girls will need transplants to survive.
The plaintiffs allege violations of equal protection and due process under the Fifth Amendment. They seek a permanent injunction and attorney’s fees and are represented by Justin Sobodash and attorneys with the Institute of Justice of Arlington, Va.