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A Second Chance

April 24th, 2008. Timothy Garron, a musician from Seattle, was denied a liver transplant when his abdomen was filled with enough fluids to make him look like he was 8-months pregnant. The reason? He had hepatitis B and was using marijuana to help him combat the symptoms. His hospital, the University of Washington Medical Center stated that using illicit substances like marijuana is a potential indicator of an addictive quality. And because of the hospital’s assumption, Garron passed away within days. There is a serious issue within that story. Since when do doctors discriminate against whose lives to save? And who made a law that denied people with alcohol or drug problems the right to live?

Unfortunately, Garron’s tragedy is becoming increasingly prevalent in the medical world today. With the scarcity of donated organs, transplant committees in many hospitals use tough standards to determine whether a candidate is eligible for an organ transplant. The criteria include everything from whether the applicant has a complicated health problem to whether the organ will give him a long time to live to whether he drinks or does drugs. For example, many hospitals across the country, such as the UCLA hospital, automatically reject patients from the organ transplant list if they use illicit drugs. Others may be nice enough to reconsider, but more often than not, deny these patients anyway.
Defenders of this standpoint argue that there are significant risks for patients who suffer substance abuse to have transplants. In Timothy Garron’s case, doctors were afraid of aspergillosis: a fatal fungal infection from marijuana compounds in his blood. However, this argument was refuted by a 2009 surgical study in Michigan in which the researchers asserted that patients who did and did not use marijuana had similar survival rates after transplants. As this study had shown, the use of drugs does not matter much in organ transplants; what matters is how well the patient takes care of his body. According to another related Michigan survey, 90% of the marijuana smokers who received organ transplants attempted to quit after surgery in order to protect their health. So if these drug users can get their acts together to be health conscious, they definitely deserve a chance to change their lifestyles for the better.
Other critics of equal opportunity for organ transplants say that alcoholics caused their own suffering: if they drank less, then they would not have to experience organ damage. Well, are alcoholics and drug addicts the only people who abuse their health? What about the fast-food eaters who binge on Big- Macs and fries? What about the office worker who gives himself too much stress? When it comes down to this, Doctor Jeff Punch from the University of Michigan puts it perfectly, “Show me one adult human being alive that has never done something that was known to be contrary to his health. If we were to hold every transplant patient accountable for past mistakes, out of fairness we would be forced to hold every person with a medical ailment accountable for his mistakes, and that would not be possible.” Doctor Punch is right. If everyone makes beneficial decisions, then what are doctors for?

Alcoholics and drug users are not the only patients discriminated against on the organ transplant list. In a PubMed Journal article, statistics stated that 49% of controlled schizophrenics who applied for cardiovascular transplants were rejected. 49%? That’s close to half! Need I say this type of rejection is a violation of the American Disability Act of 1990, which banned all discriminations against individuals with disabilities in aspects of medical service. In a 2011 New York Times article, many HIV positive patients protested that they were not able to receive kidney and liver transplants due to the spread of the virus. Only recently were HIV patients put on the list for organ transplants, but many of them still have to wait years for an actual organ because healthy, HIV negative patients are given priority. The reality is cruel. In these years of dreadful waiting, who knows how many of them are going to make it? Who knows how much pain they will go through?

Never mind these statistics, just think for yourself. I’m sure you all know at least one person who is an alcoholic, a drug user, or has a serious medical condition. I know I do. Imagine one day, when that person may need an organ transplant, don’t you think she/he deserves it? My grandpa has been a smoker for the past 30 years.
And if he ever needed an organ, I would be the first person to give it to him. Because he, like many of the discriminated organ transplant patients, deserves a second chance at a healthy life. Now, I am not asserting that drug using or heavy drinking are healthy medical habits; however, society can not fail to give a person the proper medical assistance based on his lifestyle or habits.

A new organ is the gatekeeper of a door between life and death; only by offering organ transplants for all can the United States medical system ensure the privileges of all people to pursuit life, liberty, and happiness. Just like how we were all given a second chance at least once in our life, we must all advocate for the patients who want that second chance with a healthy organ but are denied their right to do so.





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