Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rethinking the Rules of Organ Transplants

Have you ever watched a person die? If death is expected, it can be beautiful. If it's abrupt, it can be deeply disturbing. But if it's predictable and preventable, but is not prevented as a matter of policy, it's torturous.
I'm talking about organ transplantation, or more specifically, patients who need an organ transplant but don't qualify for the surgery. Hundreds, if not thousands, of patients die annually while waiting on the organ transplant list. I suspect many hundreds more die because they never make it to the list in the first place. Given the scarcity of organs available for transplantation and the implications of the surgery itself, transplant centers are incredibly choosy about who the recipients are. They take into account the patient's other medical problems, likelihood to survive the surgery and how desperately the transplant is needed. They also factor in proof of abstinence from alcohol. These criteria may seem straightforward, but enforcing them can lead to some very painful situations.
Take, for example, the case I witnessed of a middle-aged housewife* with four school-aged children who alleviated her daytime boredom by drinking a couple, or eight, vodka tonics. She went to rehab, but too late -- her liver had begun to shut down. Most transplant programs insist that recipients be sober for a minimum of six months. By four months of sobriety, however, her situation was critical; she wouldn't live another month, much less two. Did I mention she had a willing living-related donor ready to go?
Six months sobriety is, apparently, set in stone. Try explaining that to four children who bear a striking resemblance to their late mother.
I am not criticizing transplant programs, whose physicians have to make these types of decisions on a regular basis and do near-miraculous things daily. But situations like this are excruciating to endure, for patients, families and doctors alike. What do you think -- should exceptions be made to the criteria for organ transplantation?
Published February 27, 2010 @ 12:47
I understand both sides of this argument, being one of the people waiting for a life saving transplant, I was born with my liver problems, but why does that make me any more deserving than someone who may have caused their condition by overindulging in drugs, alcohol or food? Do their families love them any less then mine loves me, does God? No, so why does it matter when it shouldn't?  Because so many people are not organ donors - It matters because we made it matter, simple as that. I'll let you marinate on that article for a bit.... Do you have your dot?

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