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Bone marrow donors can be paid, court says

SAN FRANCISCO -- A father who believes a lack of bone marrow donors contributed to his son's death from leukemia says a federal court ruling allowing most bone marrow donors to be paid will save lives and curb treatment costs.

The appeals court ruled Thursday that most bone marrow donors can be paid, overturning the government's interpretation of a decades-old law making such compensation a crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

In its ruling, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a technological breakthrough makes donating bone marrow a process nearly identical to giving blood plasma.

It's legal -- and common -- to pay plasma donors. Therefore, the court ruled, bone marrow donors undergoing the new procedure can be paid as well and are exempt from a law making it a felony to sell human organs for transplants.

The ruling comes after a lawsuit was filed by the nonprofit Institute for Justice representing a coalition of patients, doctors and MoreMarrowDonors.org, which is seeking to offer donors $3,000 in the form of a scholarship, housing allowance or gift to charity.

A plaintiff in the lawsuit, Kumud Majumder, said his son, Arya, 11, died of leukemia in April. The family had resorted to an imperfect bone marrow donor match in desperation because no perfect match was available, the father said at a news conference. "Arya's tragedy happened in part because of a lack of bone marrow donors," he said. "In the end, creating more and better bone marrow donor matches through a system of modest compensation will save the lives."

The panel did say it remains a felony to compensate donors for undergoing an older transplant method, which extracts the marrow from donors' bones. But the court said the new technology isn't covered by the law because actual bone marrow isn't taken. Instead, cells that grow into marrow are taken.

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