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October 19th, 2009
04:51 PM ET

A lifesaver out of reach, for want of a profit

Surgeons aren't in a position in to turn down organs because they're not absolutely perfect.

Surgeons aren't in a position in to turn down organs because they're not absolutely perfect.

Jim Dwyer
The New York Times

Scrambling to get 60 seconds out of every minute, Katie Meacham finally got the boyfriend to take her for a carriage ride in Central Park. He hated it, she reports. “He said, ‘You know this is a pity ride, don’t you?’ ” she said, laughing.

Even though she is just 26, her days and time are at a premium. Ms. Meacham lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but she is also a citizen of another country: cancer land. She has a kind of aggressive lymphoma, a disease that ruins the blood.

Her journey is worth a moment or two of reflection. For Ms. Meacham and thousands of others with similar illnesses, the best chance for a cure would be a transplant of cells from the bone marrow of a living person, or from the umbilical cord blood of a newborn. One way to sign up as a possible donor for Ms. Meacham or others is through the Web site of the National Marrow Donor Program, at join.marrow.org/4katie.

Every few months, stories like Ms. Meacham’s are broadcast on television and radio, or appear in newspapers. This year, a drive was held to recruit potential donors for Jasmina Anema, a 6-year-old girl in Greenwich Village who has leukemia. Perhaps 40,000 people a year come down with blood cancers.

As much as their personal struggles engage us, they also tell us about the hard limits of market-based medicine.

There is no easy way to make money from the cures to these diseases. Millions of people are willing to donate cells from their bone marrow, but commercial blood banks are not interested in bearing the cost of figuring out who wants to do it or in tracking them down when they are needed.

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