Bone Marrow - NOTA Challenge
Challenge to the National Organ Transplant Act
That is why on October 28, 2009, adults with deadly blood diseases, the parents of sick children, a California nonprofit and a world-renowned medical doctor who specializes in bone marrow research joined with the Institute for Justice to launch a legal fight against the U.S. Attorney General to put an end to a ban on offering compensation for bone marrow donors.
The National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) of 1984 treats compensation for marrow donors as though it were black-market organ sales. Under NOTA, giving a college student a scholarship or a new homeowner a mortgage payment for donating marrow would land everyone—doctors, nurses, donors and patients—in federal prison for up to five years.
NOTA’s criminal ban violates equal protection because it arbitrarily treats renewable bone marrow like nonrenewable solid organs instead of like other renewable or inexhaustible cells—such as blood—for which compensated donation is legal. That makes no sense because bone marrow, unlike organs such as kidneys, replenishes itself in just a few weeks after it is donated, leaving the donor whole once again. The ban also violates substantive due process because it irrationally interferes with the right to participate in safe, accepted, lifesaving, and otherwise legal medical treatment.
On December 1, 2011, the Ninth Circuit ruled in our favor, holding that the National Organ Transplant Act’s ban on donor compensation does not apply to the most common method for donating marrow. The U.S. Attorney General sought to have that ruling overturned by the full Ninth Circuit, but was unsuccessful. Our victory became final in June 2012, and a new tool in the fight against deadly diseases became available, when the Attorney General declined to appeal its loss to the United States Supreme Court.