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EDITORIAL: The HHS blood feud
Administration officials don’t want the free market to save lives
Question of the Day
Every once in a while a case arises and gives Americans a glimpse at what a government-run health care system is really going to be like. Think of an uncaring bureaucracy, making decisions with a “government knows best” attitude that threatens the lives and health of thousands. Doreen Gummoe doesn’t have to imagine it; she lives the fight every day.
The resident of Lewiston, Maine, has three children who suffer from a rare and debilitating blood disorder known as Fanconi anemia. In order to keep her children alive, they need bone marrow from donors. Many with similar afflictions die simply because they are unable to locate a matching donor in time. To overcome this fatal dilemma, a nonprofit was set up offering $3,000 as an incentive to encourage people to come forward and donate the stem cells from which healthy blood cells grow. These stem cells are extracted from the donor’s blood using a procedure called “peripheral blood stem-cell apheresis,” which is not too different from giving blood at the Red Cross, though it takes more time.
The administration was appalled at this free-market approach to the problem and insisted on shutting down donations under the National Organ Transplant Act, a law enacted in 1984 to combat the black-market sale of human kidneys. The measure does prohibit bone-marrow sales, but it specifically exempts blood from the definition of “human organ.” At the time the law was written, bone-marrow transplants could only be accomplished through difficult and invasive procedures. Even though that’s no longer true, Justice Department lawyers went to court and argued that a person who sells blood to a blood bank is an upstanding citizen, but a person who sells blood to a bone-marrow charity is a felon who should be thrown in prison for five years.
Two years ago, the Gummoe family won the legal argument by convincing the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that bone-marrow donations from the blood shouldn’t be subject to restrictions designed to cover the giving of nonreplaceable organs such as kidneys. Under the modern procedure, the bone marrow regenerates itself in a few weeks.
Judges on the court blasted the administration for basing its arguments on inaccurate terminology. “It may be that ‘bone-marrow transplant’ is an anachronism that will soon fade away,” the court explained, “as peripheral blood stem-cell apheresis replaces aspiration as the transplant technique, much as ‘dial the phone’ is fading away now that telephones do not have dials.”
Instead of accepting this common-sense finding, the Department of Health and Human Services stood on the steps of the hospital door Monday, closing public comment on a new regulation that redefines blood in a way that sidesteps the court’s decision, criminalizing the sorts of donation that would help the Gummoe family. The administration justifies this callous move by claiming a ban on compensation would “encourage altruistic donations” and “decrease the likelihood of disease transmission resulting from paid donations.”
The same could be said of any other form of blood donation. The American people are generous and step up in times of need, but because bone-marrow donation requires a much more specific matching of the donor to the patient, allowing a monetary incentive is critical. Generous souls can’t just offer up healthy cells to anyone in need; they need to be carefully matched in advance.
As Obamacare’s grip on our medical system grows ever tighter, callous decisions based on bureaucratic interpretations of the law will continue to crowd out common sense. Americans must reclaim their health care before it’s too late.
About the Author
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