Debate Reopens for Organ Allocation Following Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Heart Transplant; Kingston, Medical Malpractice Attorney Discusses

John Fisher
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As you may know, former Vice President Dick Cheney just underwent a heart transplant on Saturday.  He is now recovering in the intensive care unit of Inova Fairfax Hospital which is located in Falls Church, Virginia.  The Vice President had actually waited for 20 months on the donor list, and does not know the actual identify of the donor.  Cheney’s office released a statement saying that “[a]lthough the former vice president and his family do not know the identity of the donor, they will be forever grateful for this lifesaving gift.”

Previously, the former Vice President has been using a Left Ventricular Assist Device which is implanted into his chest and helps the heart pump.  But it is generally only a temporary fix.  About seventy-percent of individuals receiving a heart transplant live at least five years, however that drops for individuals over 65.  For an individual Cheney’s age, 71, he will likely have a sixty-percent change of surviving.

This, of course, sparks the bioethical debate of how old is too old for a heart transplant?  Bioethics is the study of controversial ethics, and is a marriage of medicine and law.  Cheney, who is 71, has just received a heart ahead of thousands of younger individuals who were also waiting for it.  In fact, there are more than 3,100 Americans waiting for a new heart and about 330 die EACH YEAR waiting for one.  One report found that Cheney actually waited LONGER than most heart transplant patients who wait a year or less.  While the doctors treating Cheney and performing the surgery claim he did not receive any special treatment, it still begs the question of how old is too old?

Currently, there are a few factors that are looked out to assign an organ to an individual.  Some of these factors are time on the waiting list, medical need, and where you live.  But age of the person is NOT looked at.  Art Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that he has “been arguing for a long time that the system should pay more attention to age because you’ll get a better return on the gift.”  He grounds this claim to the fact that younger people are more likely to live longer.

This is a very interesting and HIGHLY controversial area in medicine and law.  As medical technology advances, there will be an increase in the amazing things that it can do.  There will, of course, be new issues on who can receive these new, breakthrough medical advancements.  For example, organ transplants are limited because of the scarcity of the organs and the fact they need to be used immediately; they cannot be stored for later use.  Therefore, the law needs to come in and determine who should receive these scarce commodities.  But when you are talking about people’s lives and medicine, this makes it VERY difficult to do!

But what do you think?  I would love to hear from you!  I welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at [email protected]  You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com
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