Good news out of San Francisco today: 

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that most bone marrow donors can be paid, overturning a decades-old law that made such compensation a crime.

In its ruling Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a technological breakthrough makes donating bone marrow a nearly identical process as donating 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.

This is great news for the Institute for Justice , which is undoing years of bad legislative decisions, and Amit Gupta, who is suffering from leukemia. He became the center of the case after a group of his friends set up a pot for a matched donor.

Virginia Postrel chronicled Gupta’s then-illegal search for a marrow donor:

The website TechCrunch drove new waves of interest with an article headlined, “#IswabbedforAmit Offers Up 20K To Find A Bone Marrow Donor For Startup Founder Amit Gupta.”

There was only one problem. The offer was illegal.

Under the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, better known as NOTA, it’s a federal crime to give or receive “valuable consideration” for any transplantable organ or tissue, specifically including bone marrow. (Expenses incurred in making a donation, including not only medical costs but also travel and lost wages, are exempt.)

.. As Gupta’s story illustrates, however, that’s not necessarily the case. Money can be an expression of commitment and a powerful spur to get people to act on their compassionate instincts. Financial incentives can overcome inertia and procrastination. They can steer people toward socially beneficial behavior. Nobel Prizes come with money, and we don’t, after all, expect every firefighter, nanny or transplant surgeon to work for free.

Virginia Postrel has written beautifully on the market for organs. While I doubt everyone will agree with her about kidney transplants, I’m thankful that thousands will have more opportunities to return to health.