Medical Marijuana User Denied Organ Transplant
When Jonathan Simchen was diagnosed with kidney failure last summer, he did just what the doctor ordered: He applied for a kidney transplant and took his prescribed medicine — medical marijuana.
The marijuana was meant to control his nausea.
Simchen, a 33-year-old diabetic who lives near Seattle, soon found out there was a Catch-22 rolled up in his legalized joints. He was turned down by two organ transplant programs because he uses medical marijuana.
“[They] took me off the list because they’re afraid of me being a future drug user,” said Simchen, who admits that he has used cocaine. But that was in the past and he even quit using medical marijuana at the hospital’s request.
When Simchen went to the University of Washington Medical Center, he says he was also turned down.
“They made it clear that if you had medical marijuana, they wouldn’t treat me. I just lost hope and got totally frustrated.”
Alisha Mark, a spokeswoman for Virginia Mason, would not discuss details of Simchon’s case because of medical privacy regulations, but said that “any patient who smokes any product — tobacco, cloves, medical marijuana — would be precluded from receiving a transplant here.”
Other transplant doctors and bioethicists, including some in states where medical marijuana is against the law, were surprised to hear about the refusals.
Vivian Tellis, the director of the transplant program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says that he would never turn somebody down because of a history of marijuana use or abuse. Because medical marijuana is not allowed in New York, most of those cases involve recreational use.
“There is no known contraindication between marijuana and the drugs you have to take after transplant,” Tellis said.
Maxwell J. Mehlman, director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University, said, “They use a screening process to avoid people who might be failures and they look at several factors from drug use to having a support system. It has actually been a source of bioethical controversy because it allows them to reject homeless people and people who live alone. In some cases, it’s a backdoor way of rationing based on social worth and lifestyles.”
Following up on the LA Times story I reported yesterday, now we have ABC News picking up on this medical travesty. It is so much an ingrained antipathy in our culture against “hippies” or “stoners”. I’ve got to believe that it is nothing but prejudice, pure and simple, because there is no legitimate medical or scientific reason these transplant rejections.
Ms. Mark, I concede that smoking “any product — tobacco, cloves, medical marijuana” isn’t healthy and could be a reason to deny a transplant. (I am curious, though, how many clove smokers you’ve rejected.) But you must know that eating cannabis, vaporizing cannabis, tinctures of cannabis, and synthetic THC pills avoid all of the harms of smoking, right?
Institutionalized medicine is bigoted against medical marijuana. You can grow it yourself; no need for a pharmacist. You can harvest it yourself; no need for a drug company. You can use it with no fear of toxicity; no need for more costly medical bills. You can control your own treatment; no need for time-wasting expensive doctor’s visits. You can take it or leave it; no need for spendy rehab centers. If it were protected from job discrimination like a medicine, no need for so much drug testing.
Medical marijuana is not harmful to these transplant patients. It is harmful to the institutionalized Western disease-care system of medicine, though.