Medical marijuana patients face transplant hurdles | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle
SEATTLE — Timothy Garon’s face and arms are hauntingly skeletal, but the fluid building up in his abdomen makes the 56-year-old musician look eight months pregnant.
His liver, ravaged by hepatitis C, is failing. Without a new one, his doctors tell him, he will be dead in days.
But Garon’s been refused a spot on the transplant list, largely because he has used marijuana, even though it was legally approved for medical reasons.
With the scarcity of donated organs, transplant committees like the one at the University of Washington Medical Center use tough standards, including whether the candidate has other serious health problems or is likely to drink or do drugs.
And with cases like Garon’s, they also have to consider — as a dozen states now have medical marijuana laws — if using cannabis with a doctor’s blessing should be held against a dying patient in need of a transplant.
The Virginia-based United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the nation’s transplant system, leaves it to individual hospitals to develop criteria for transplant candidates.
At some, people who use “illicit substances” — including medical marijuana, even in states that allow it — are automatically rejected. At others, such as the UCLA Medical Center, patients are given a chance to reapply if they stay clean for six months. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.
This continued discrimination against medical users of marijuana has got to stop. It’s beyond irony that someone in need of a liver transplant is punished for using the medicine that doesn’t harm the liver; it’s cruel.
Some hospitals told Garon he could be eligible if he would only complete a 60-day rehab or six months of abstinence. Two-to-six months without treatment with marijuana means 60 to 180 days of using other drugs that are fatally toxic to the man’s liver. So it’s really a crapshoot: use marijuana to feel better and face certain death from liver failure or don’t use marijuana and feel awful and take drugs that accelerate certain death from liver failure.