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Pay ban on donor organs doesn't include bone marrow, court says

With marrow now being extracted from the bloodstream, a federal appeals court calls it blood parts, not organ parts.

The new reading of the federal prohibition could attract thousands more donors.

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

A federal law banning compensation for organ transplants doesn't extend to bone marrow harvested from a donor's blood, a federal appeals court said Thursday in a ruling that could attract thousands of new donors in a national campaign to save the lives of those afflicted with cancer and genetic disorders.

The 1984 National Organ Transplant Act included bone marrow in its list of "organs and parts thereof" for which donors could face criminal charges and five years in prison for providing them in exchange for money or other "valuable consideration."

Though bone marrow is naturally replenishable, unlike livers, kidneys and other whole organs, its sale was barred because the extraction method used at the time the law was passed was painful and risky for the donor and authorities feared the poor would be induced to submit to the procedure to earn money.

In the last 20 years, though, medical advances have brought about a less intrusive method by which the life-saving marrow stem cells are harvested from a donor's bloodstream in much the same way as blood is drawn at a blood bank. The new process, known as apheresis, filters out excess marrow stem cells that circulate in the bloodstream, as opposed to the surgical extraction method, known as aspiration, which inserts a large needle into the hip bone and siphons out the cells.

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