Shaka Mitchell is the president of MoreMarrowDonors.org.
Chances are, by the time you finish reading this article, one person in the United States will have already died from a blood disease like leukemia or multiple myeloma. By the day's end, another two people will have lost their fight against these killers.
In all, roughly 1,000 Americans will die this year because they couldn't find a matching bone marrow donor. Countless more will suffer the terrible effects of gambling on a mismatched donor.
What if I told you that for $3,000, the odds that a person would find a lifesaving bone marrow match are dramatically increased? Would you be willing to try? For MoreMarrowDonors.org, of which I am a founding member, the answer is a resounding "Yes." But compensating someone who gives the gift of life in the form of a bone marrow donation used to be considered a crime. Before an exception to the National Organ Transplant Act was made, any doctors, nurses, marrow and financial donors, and even recipients in the transaction would be considered felons. Under the law, we could each have received up to five years in federal prison. That's why in 2009 MoreMarrowDonors.org, represented by the Institute for Justice, joined other plaintiffs including families, cancer survivors, and a renowned physician to challenge the National Organ Transplant Act.
We want to start a pilot program that offers the most needed bone marrow donors a $3,000 scholarship, housing allowance, or gift to the charity of their choice. The donors, both financial and marrow, and the recipient all remain anonymous. And in the end, a person's life is extended. Not a bad deal.
Some patients have been waiting a very long time. When the act was passed in 1984, Congress sought to ban markets in solid organs, particularly kidneys. Congress said that the surgery was dangerous and invasive and kidneys don't grow back. But extracting marrow cells couldn't be more different.
Furthermore, the hard reality, evidenced by the number of Americans who succumb every year to treatable blood diseases, is that the existing match system is woefully inadequate. Unlike traditional blood donations, marrow donors need to have a specific genetic match. Most patients will not find a match in their family because of vast variation in tissue types and must turn to the national registry. Currently, Caucasians have approximately a 75 percent chance of finding a donor in the registry. Asians and Hispanics have less than a 50 percent chance, while African-Americans and people of mixed ethnicity like me have the rarest donor types and are thus least likely to find compatible donors. Even when a match is identified in the database, a sizable number cannot be located or will not donate when asked. We want to put a dent in these statistics.
Despite efforts by the federal government to block our program, after more than two years in the courtroom, we are finally poised to launch. Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the government's latest request to rehear an opinion in favor of the MoreMarrowDonors.org program. This means that in the near future people in need of a bone marrow transplant won't cling to the existing registry system as their only hope.
I hope that the government's immoral and unconstitutional reaction to our program is finally over and that established marrow registries view us as a partner, not a threat. Every day the fight against deadly blood diseases occurs in hospital rooms across the country. It's time we put an end to the legal battle happening in the courtroom.