When I taught Public Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, I remember one day when the school was having a “Bone Marrow Drive” to help an employee stricken with cancer.  You could sign up for a free bone marrow screening to see if you were a match and, if you were not, your bone marrow would be placed in a database for future reference.  Bone marrow transplants are expensive, and painful, for both donor and recipient, but in many ways, that marrow is the manna of life.

When my eye recently happened upon a story about Supermodels donating their time to register bone marrow donors, I was delighted and intrigued until, that is, I read the bedeviling in the details:

BOSTON — On its face, it seemed reasonable enough: a bone marrow registry sending recruiters to malls, ballparks and other busy sites to enlist potential donors.

But the recruiters were actually flirtatious models in heels, short skirts and lab coats, law enforcement officials say, asking passers-by for DNA swabs without mentioning the price of the seemingly simple procedure. And the registry, Caitlin Raymond International, was paying up to $60,000 a week for the models while billing insurance companies up to $4,300 per test. …

The registry is a nonprofit subsidiary of UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. …

James T. Boffetti, the state’s senior assistant attorney general, said the registry had hired models based on their photographs and had given them “explicit instructions” to wear heels and short skirts. The registry paid the models to approach potential donors at dozens of malls and events throughout New England, Mr. Boffetti said. …

“They got people to do this without telling them it could be a charge of $4,300 against their insurance,” he said.

Do we want hired help charlatans posing and preening for your bone marrow DNA in low-slung tops and hiked skirts to rake in $4,300.00USD from your insurance company?

Is there an ethical disconnect between the public good and the purposeful, and quite public, misleading of potential bone marrow donors?

Do we really want prospective bone marrow donors to ever have to ask, “How much is this going to cost me?”

UMass Memorial should be ashamed of their role in this insurance scam — even if the ruse just happened to add 185,000 potential donors to the bone marrow database — because the exposure of their poor judgement in obtaining those DNA samples poisons the well for every other public effort to raise awareness for bone marrow donations and ultimately presses away the public from volunteering to help when it ultimately costs them a lot of money.

2 Comments

    1. It was definitely a strange thing, Gordon, and UMass should reimburse all the insurance companies who had their clients duped by those hussy Supermodels.

      My sense of it is if they didn’t have health insurance to cover the $4k cost, they were not allowed to contribute their DNA to the bone marrow database. This was a money-making scheme pretending to be philanthropic.