The Washington Post The New York TimesWe want to let you know that an angel is not a man who has recently had a heart transplant from a pig.
David Bennett (57) has terminal heart disease. He received last week a genetically engineered pig heart as a transplant. The groundbreaking procedure was first-of its-kind and has the potential of saving many lives. According to doctors, Bennett was not eligible for a heart transplant. He had irregular heart beat and issues with his heart. It is possible that this was the only way Bennett could have a heart transplant.
Bennett was sentenced in 1988 for seven stabbings that left a man paralysed. Edward Shumaker was the victim. He spent two decades in a wheelchair and suffered a stroke in 2005. Shumaker died just two years after turning 41.
Bennett’s treatment is unaffected by any of these. Yet, two of the largest newspapers in America have chosen to cover a crime Bennett committed at the age 22. It is called The PostIt was reported first, apparently because Shumaker’s relatives reached out to complain about the transplant. Leslie Shumaker Downey Shumaker’s sister is unhappy that Bennett was given this lifesaving treatment.
“[Bennett]She continued to live a happy life,” she shared with the Post. “Now he gets a second chance with a new heart—but I wish, in my opinion, it had gone to a deserving recipient.”
Downey may feel that this injustice is unfair because of her deep personal connection with Bennett. Downey is not to be judged. Bennett’s feelings should not be a factor in Bennett’s medical care. It’s also irresponsible to assume that there is some controversy.
It PostAs a news anchor, Downey invokes Downey’s feelings to make a point about how more than 100,000 Americans wait for organ transplants. 17 Americans also die waiting. This is the The PostShe adds: “In light of such a shortfall, it can appear unconscionable for some families that those convicted in violent crime would be granted a lifesaving treatment so many desperately require.”
Bennett was not on the waiting list because he wasn’t eligible. No matter how morally and ethically deserving, Bennett refused to take any human heart from anyone. He received a pig heart in a pioneering and dangerous surgery that could have killed him—and to be clear, might still. Everyone on this waiting list won’t be turned away. EverythingBennett’s surgical procedure. (The New York TimesThis important information is found five paragraphs below the story’s end.
It Post pivots again (as does the Times) to doctors and bioethicists who all say, in pretty much one voice, what should not be controversial: We do not portion out medical treatment on the basis of the moral standing of the recipient.
Arthur Caplan of New York University is a professor in bioethics and says that “the key principle to medicine is treatment anyone who is sick,” Post. We are not here to sort sinners and saints. Crime is an issue of law.”
It is a puzzlement that the PostThe pivots point out yet again that hospitals in the area have the right to determine who is added to their waiting lists. This includes things such as whether the prisoner may be at risk of contracting an infection after the procedure. However, these decisions are strictly medical and do not reflect a decision about whether the patient is “deserving” of treatment. It is the PostThis suggests that there may be some chance that they could, since hospitals have some latitude. ShouldBe able to categorize patients according to their moral worth.
It PostEven going so far as asking the University of Maryland Medical Center whether it knew anything about Bennett’s criminal history. Officials did not respond.
What would happen if you required criminal history checks for major operations? Imagine the consequences of prioritization of major surgery based more on medical than legal factors.
Surprisingly neither The Washington Postnor The New York TimesThe potential ethical implications of this is even discussed, but the TimesA medical ethics researcher can ask vaguely, “Wo would you draw the line? If you could choose?”
Bennett’s operation was not performed at the cost of anyone else receiving lifesaving treatments. The procedure may be rescheduled if Bennett survives. Get helpMany people are stuck on transplant waiting lists and dying as they cannot find a suitable donor heart. Bennett’s pioneering surgery could save lives because he was willing to take on death.
The University of Maryland Medical Center did not care about Bennett’s criminal history when performing this potentially life-saving surgery. This was the ethical decision. Were there any other options? The Washington Post The New York TimesTaking the time to reflect on the ethics behind what? TheyWe did.