Former US Vice-President Dick Cheney is accused of favoritism over his heart surgery, as he was too old to receive a heart transplant on Friday.
Critics are complaining that 71-year-old Dick Cheney was given special consideration because of his position.
Though they do not think that Dick Cheney was moved up the transplant list, he was given the organ that could have gone to thousands of younger recipients who would have more years to live with it.
“Most centers wouldn’t put somebody on at Cheney’s age,” said University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan, who has testified before many panels on organ sharing issues.
“I’ve 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 because younger people are more likely to live longer with a donor organ,” Art Caplan said.
Dick Cheney’s case reopens debate about whether rules should be changed to favor youth over age in giving out scarce organs.
As it stands now, time on the waiting list, medical need and where you live determine the odds of scoring a new heart – not how many years you’ll live to make use of it.
Dick Cheney, who served as President George W. Bush’s vice president for both terms, from 2001 to 2009, received the transplant Saturday at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia, the same place where he received an implanted heart pump that has kept him alive since July 2010.
It appears the former vice president went on the transplant wait list around that time, 20 months ago.
Dick Cheney had severe congestive heart failure and had suffered five heart attacks over the past 25 years.
He has had countless procedures to keep him going – bypasses, artery-opening angioplasty, pacemakers and surgery on his legs. Yet Dick Cheney must have had a healthy liver and kidneys to qualify for a new heart, doctors said.
“We have done several patients hovering around age 70 although that’s about the upper limit for a transplant,” said Dr. Mariell Jessup, a University of Pennsylvania heart failure specialist and American Heart Association spokeswoman.
“The fact he waited such a long time shows he didn’t get any favors.”
More than 3,100 Americans are waiting now for a new heart, and about 330 die each year before one becomes available.
When one does, doctors check to see who is a good match and in highest medical need. The heart is offered locally, then regionally and finally nationally until a match is made.
“You can’t leapfrog the system,” said Dr. Allen Taylor, cardiology chief at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
“It’s a very regimented and fair process and heavily policed.”
That said, there is no formal rule disqualifying anyone above the age of 70 from receiving a new heart, though many hospitals enforce an unstated version of the rule in an effort to allow younger patients access to the lifesaving procedure.
“The ethical issues are not that he had a transplant, but who didn’t?” tweeted Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist at Scripps Health in La Jolla, California.
Preferential treatment to wealthy patients is also a hot topic when it comes to transplants because they often are able to sign up to more than one transplant list in an effort to be considered ‘local’ in more places.
In order for that to work, the patient has to have the ability to fly to the hospital in question on very short notice.
Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was one example of that, as he was on a transplant list in Tennessee and received a new liver at a hospital there in 2009 even though he lived in California.