SAVING LIVES: Cancer Patients Unite, Sue Federal Government

There’s a bad law on the books that is costing lives every single day.

Cancer patients from around the country have teamed up with a world-famous doctor, a non-profit and the Institute for Justice in a major federal lawsuit against the U.S. Attorney General to change that.

This week, we argued before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (You can listen to the audio of the argument here.)

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As our client Kumud Majumder wrote this Monday in the USA Today:

My 11-year-old son, Arya, was an angel who transformed my life. His death from leukemia last April took away not just my only child, it also took away my very heart and soul, and triggered the collapse of my 23-year marriage.

Arya’s tragedy happened in part because of a lack of bone marrow donors. Each year, as many as 3,000 people in the U.S. die waiting for a bone marrow donor match. A significantly higher number of people die from complications arising from partially matched donors. This is largely avoidable, and the shortage of donors is made worse by a federal law that I and other families of cancer patients are fighting in federal court.

There is chronic shortage of bone marrow donors in the United States. The sad reality is that cancer patients die every day as a result. More people would likely donate their bone marrow if we did one simple thing: compensate them.

A national nonprofit, MoreMarrowDonors.org, wants to offer $3,000 stipends to the most needed donors in the form of a mortgage payment, college scholarship, or gift to a charity of the donor’s choice.

But a federal law makes this common-sense approach a major felony.

As IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes explains in the video above, everyone involved (doctors, patients, donors, nurses, etc) could get five years in federal prison. The National Organ Transplant Act was created decades ago because Congress was concerned about kidney markets. Lawmakers specifically excluded from the law renewable cells like blood, ova, and sperm.

Bone marrow is simply immature blood cells, but it was – perhaps mistakenly – included in the ban along with solid organs like kidneys and lungs.

The Economist points out the absurdity of the law in a piece called, aptly, Save a Life and Get Five Years in Prison:

[I]t is illegal–and punishable by up to five years in prison–to pay donors for their trouble and discomfort. This is a foolish law. The Institute for Justice, a libertarian group, argues that it is also unconstitutional.

The law is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection guarantee of the 5th Amendment. This says that the government can’t treat similar things differently or different things the same. In this case, the law treats bone marrow like solid organs and unlike renewable cells.

This year, 45,000 Americans will get leukemia and several thousand will be children. For many of them, a bone marrow transplant will be their only hope.

Compensation for bone marrow donation is so important because only two percent of Americans have joined the bone marrow registry. And many that are registered back out when they are called to donate.

Consider Penny Lindenberg.

She was diagnosed with leukemia and had four matches in the bone marrow registry. Tragically, all four of her matches backed out. Penny died a few months ago. Her husband told reporters: “Now I have two girls at home without a mother, and lots of lives are ruined.”

Consider this: If Penny’s four matches had each been offered compensation, would all four them still have backed out?

IJ client Doreen Flynn says it best. She has three beautiful girls and all three may need bone marrow transplants:

I don’t think anybody should have to go to prison for any length of time who wants to help save my daughters’ lives. That’s why we’re ready to fight.

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What do you think about compensation for bone marrow donation? Let us know on our facebook page.

(You can sign up for the bone marrow registry by simply visiting Be The Match. It’s free, all it takes is a simple check swab, and you don’t even have to leave your house.)

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