After celebrating a hallmark heart transplant in which a human patient received a genetically modified pig heart, news outlets have since turned to reporting on the man’s troubled past.
“Patient in Groundbreaking Heart Transplant Has a Violent Criminal Record,” blared a headline in the New York Times yesterday about an incident decades ago in which the patient stabbed a man, leading to the victim becoming paralyzed.
Sure, it’s a grabby headline. But is it really the most responsible way to cover the issue? Every doctor the Times interviewed said criminal history shouldn’t be used to determine the worthiness of a patient who needs healthcare, so why did the headline place sensationalism over the actual conclusions?
“It is the solemn obligation of any hospital or health care organization to provide lifesaving care to every patient who comes through their doors based on their medical needs,” University of Maryland Medical Center, where the transplant operation was performed, said in a statement. “Any other standard of care would set a dangerous precedent and would violate the ethical and moral values that underpin the obligation physicians and caregivers have to all patients in their care.”
You’re not alone if the incident calls to mind a 2011 episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” in which fictional Dr. Cristina Yang realizes she’s operating on a mass shooter. She gives the other nurses a chance to walk away and many do, but she stays to complete the surgery and save his life. It’s partially about saving the patient, but more about being the kind of doctor who saves lives, period.
Considering that many lawmakers are looking to pass additional anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans healthcare bills this year after passing a handful that made severely limited youth healthcare or even made it illegal, it’s not hard to imagine the slippery slope created by doctors getting to pick and choose who they care for based on their opinions or personal desires.
Others could, for example, follow the lead of those who gave fake COVID-19 vaccines because they believe conspiracy theory and not fact.
It’s also worth noting that because the patient in the transplant received a pig heart, no human organ donations were used according to the Times. In addition, the operation was part of a plan to perfect using modified organs in other surgeries to overcome the current shortage in organ donations. The organ waiting list can be a death sentence for the more than 100,000 patients on the organ donation waiting list if they wait too long.
Yes, one patient may have had a violent past, but we can’t allow doctors to choose who does and doesn’t deserve healthcare, especially if it comes at the expense of life-saving scientific advancements.