Friday, January 24, 2003

Should prison inmates get organ transplants?

The unidentified inmate -- the first California convict to get a new heart and only the second given a transplant of any kind -- was serving a 14-year sentence for a Los Angeles robbery at the time of his surgery. Due to be paroled in 2008, he was suffering from a viral infection that led to a gradual degeneration of his heart muscle.After he was struck with congestive heart failure, the inmate was taken to Stanford University Medical Center, where he was kept alive by a machine that made his heart keep pumping. Hospital officials determined that a transplant was medically necessary, and a Stanford ethics committee approved him for the surgery.The patient had done fairly well after the transplant and was taking anti-rejection drugs, prison officials said. But by fall, he was ailing and it appeared his body was rejecting the organ. A corrections spokesman said he "was not a model patient," suggesting he may not have been taking his post-surgery medication as directed.The prisoner died Dec. 16 at Stanford, and corrections officials estimated the costs of his transplant and related care at $2 million, including $1 million for the surgery and $12,500 a day for his stay in the intensive care unit.Officials said they were compelled to provide the transplant by court decisions concluding that denial of decent medical care to prisoners amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

Denham called the inmate's transplant outrageous, saying that taxpayers should not be forced to foot the bill for such expensive procedures for prisoners. His bill, however, is more narrowly drawn. It would simply allow motorists who fill out forms donating their organs or tissues to specify that no incarcerated person may benefit.

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