For years, the various donor programs in the U.S. refused to bring money into the equation of determining who was more worthy of any kind of transplant.
These programs were designed to provide fair methods so that anyone with a need for an organ wasn’t going up against an incredibly wealthy family who needed the same donor and was willing to pay big bucks to lay claim to that organ. Now, though a U.S. Appeals court has decided a price tag can be thrown into the mix. This has resulted in a host of other ethical and even legal questions.
The first and most obvious question is now that there’s monetary value attached to organs, does that mean an increase in so called “body snatchers” who conduct crude operations on live people in order to grab valuable kidneys or other organs? Before you think that can’t happen, you should know it already is. Even more alarming is it’s happening in the U.S. in growing numbers.
In 2009, a lawsuit was filed by a group of cancer patients, bone marrow donation advocates and several other groups. They wanted the ban lifted and the right to swipe a credit card to buy an organ. And the courts agreed. This eliminates the fairer process of choosing the patient who’s been on a waiting list the longest and who has the best chance of a successful transplant of any given organ. Now, patients can expect to pay around $3,000 for bone marrow, making it a money making operation for some donors.
Three of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were led by Doreen Flynn, a woman 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 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 National Organ Transplantation Act (NOTA) has forbid the buying and selling of human organs, including bone marrow since 1984. But with advances in bone marrow extraction, it’s now as easy as donating it as it is donating blood. Before these advances, bone marrow donors had to undergo painful procedures that required anesthesia, long needles and a day or two in the hospital.
The new technique, peripheral apheresis, makes it easy and fast to pull blood stem cells directly from the donor’s blood supply instead of the bone. This process makes it a process to extract fluid and this means NOTA shouldn’t prohibit cash incentives since it does allow it for other fluids such as semen or blood.
There are those pushing to eliminate actual cash payments to donors and instead, requiring the compensation be applied to one’s education, housing or even a charitable donation. It’s not likely to happen since it defeats the purpose as far as donors and those who need the donations are concerned. If the recipients are willing to pay, it should be allowed to be in any kind of currency the donor requests, say supporters.
With about 114,000 people waiting for organs in the U.S. alone and only 3,300 donors, the urgent medical need runs up against moral standards of the value of human life. Once we start paying for the parts we need, though, how far do we go?
We don’t allow people to buy and sell human beings, that’s slavery,
says Dr. Robert Klitzman, director of the bioethics program at Columbia University. “Should we allow people to buy and sell human body parts?”