Thursday, May 6, 2010

Compensation for bone marrow donors: opposing views

In November I wrote about a lawsuit to overturn the ban on compensation for bone marrow donors: Compensating donors: how about bone marrow? . Commentary in support of the lawsuit suggested that perhaps bone marrow had been unintentionally included in the more general ban on compensation for organ donors.

More recently, some of the organizations connected with bone marrow have come out against compensation: Leading Transplant and Transfusion Organizations Join Forces in Effort to Keep Bone Marrow Donation Voluntary .

"Voicing concern about the potential impact on patient and donor safety, nine leading international health organizations have formed a coalition to oppose compensating people who provide bone marrow for transplantation.

"The organizations — each a leader in the field of transplantation and transfusion therapies — have joined forces in the face of a lawsuit aimed at overturning current U.S. law regarding bone marrow donation. The Institute for Justice is seeking to reverse the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, as it applies to the prohibition on compensating bone marrow donors. ...

"The coalition includes the NMDP, America’s Blood Centers, AABB (formerly American Association of Blood Banks), the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, American Society of Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics, the American Society of Transplantation, International Society of Cellular Therapy, The Transplantation Society, and the World Marrow Donor Association.
They oppose changing the current law, citing these reasons:
Protecting Recipient and Donor Safety
A complete and truthful health history is critical to ensure that individuals are eligible to donate and that donated cells are free from infectious diseases. There is a substantial body of experience that people wanting to sell their body parts are more likely to withhold medical details and information that could harm patients.
Maintaining Altruistic Motivations
Studies have shown that compensating donors would deter those who are willing to donate for purely altruistic reasons. The eight million members of the Be The Match Registry® — in addition to the five million volunteer donors on international registries — are proof that people do not need material incentive to save a life. Current law already allows donors to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses and lost wages. The NMDP and other organizations maintain funds expressly for this purpose.
Avoiding the Creation of Markets in Marrow Donation
Compensation has the potential to create markets for marrow, which could have detrimental effects for both donors and patients. Sellers influenced by possible financial gain could ignore the health risks associated with donation or be coerced by third-party organizations that would profit from a marrow sale. In addition, markets put physicians in the morally dubious position of carrying out medical procedures solely so that sellers may profit.
”The creation of markets is likely to elicit criticism from groups that oppose treating the human body and its parts as property,” said Art Caplan, professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. “To risk potentially undermining support for marrow donation by allowing donor compensation is irresponsible and short-sighted.”
Ensuring Patients’ Access to Treatment
While the Institute for Justice’s lawsuit alleges compensation might increase patients’ access to bone marrow, the opposite is true.
Changing the U.S. law to allow compensation for marrow donors would set a precedent that could hurt the current voluntary systems for organ and blood donation, potentially undermining some patients’ access to safe organ transplants and blood transfusions. If donors were compensated, the United States would no longer conform to international standards for the use of volunteer donors in cell therapies. Thus, patients in the United States may be unable to have access to the worldwide search process. This would restrict Americans’ chances of finding a match and lives may be lost. "

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