PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — A nonprofit organization that wants to offer money to people with rare bone marrow cell types is challenging a federal law that makes compensating such donors a crime.

   Lawyers for MoreMarrowDonors.org, along with families seeking matching donors and medical expert on bone marrow transplants, are scheduled to argue their case Tuesday in front of a 9th U.S. Court of Appeals panel.

   The plaintiffs want to change part of the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act, which prohibits the sale of body organs, including bone marrow cells. They contend Congress made a mistake when it passed the law, which was intended to prevent a marketplace for irreplaceable organs such as kidneys or livers.

   They argue that unlike those organs, bone marrow cells replenish themselves a few weeks after they’re donated.

   The government is seeking to dismiss the case.

   The nonprofit’s lawsuit claims the federal law violates the plaintiff’s constitutional right for equal protection, because it arbitrarily allows compensation for renewable or plentiful cells such as blood, eggs and sperm, but not bone marrow cells.

   Those cells inside the bone marrow produce the blood cells needed to treat leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases.

   Minority and mixed-race patients have a lower likelihood than whites of finding a genetic match from the U.S. bone marrow donor registry.

   The board members of MoreMarrowDonors.org, which include a black man suffering from leukemia who’s had a difficulty finding a compatible donor, want to give $3,000 in scholarship, rent or mortgage payment or a donation to the charity of the donor’s choice.

   The nonprofit, however, has not given any money because it’s worried that doing so could land its members in federal prison for up to five years.

   An attorney with the Institute for Justice who is arguing for the plaintiffs said they’re only trying to compensate those who are willing to donate marrow cells, a procedure similar to giving blood but requires several days of injections to push marrow cells into the bloodstream.

   “We’re not asking you to undergo some kind of dangerous surgery,” Jeff Rowes said. “What we’re paying for is the time and the inconvenience of coming in and doing something useful for somebody else. Because marrow cells are renewable, the donor is not giving anything up forever.”

   (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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