A healthcare system based in Colorado has sparked a heated debate after denying unvaccinated patients organ transplants, stating these people are far more likely to die of complications should they contract COVID-19. The system came under fire after an unvaccinated woman claimed she was denied a kidney transplant following the hospital learning of her vaccination status, who then gave her 30 days to reconsider and get vaccinated.
Upon further probing, UCHealth has stated that they will be refusing organ transplants in “almost all situations” where the patient is not vaccinated and also claimed that other transplant institutions have similar policies.
While the patient has not been named by the hospital, a Colorado Springs woman has come forward claiming it is her and expressing her outrage at the situation and has said she is being “coerced into making a decision that is one I’m not comfortable making right now in order to live”, according to 9News.
However, with the US organ transplant system under such dire strain, it is likely transplant centers will continue the policy. Currently, there are over 106,000 men, women, and children on the transplant waiting list, the vast majority of those requiring a kidney. In 2020, over 91,000 people required a kidney transplant, but just 22,000 received one, as a donor shortage continues to grip the US health system. As a result, organs are often prioritized to ensure the best chance of success, and rules such as vaccination requirements are not uncommon.
According to 9News, the objection of the patient stems from “religious reasons” and objects to the use of fetal cell lines often used in vaccine development – while the cell lines are derived originally from elective terminations many decades ago, they are now simply cultured from this cell line. No fetuses are harmed in modern vaccine development.
The woman and her prospective donor must now find alternative arrangements, as they have been turned away from similar institutions in the local area for the same reasons. COVID-19 is particularly dangerous in recipients of kidney transplants, with a large review identifying a dramatic increase in hospitalization and death within a year of the transplant. As such, mitigation strategies – the best of which is the vaccine – are now required to prevent patients from contracting the disease.
Selective distribution of healthcare is one of the most contentious issues in medicine. Current medical guidelines state it is extremely unethical to refuse patient care based on their ideologies and (in many cases) their lifestyles, but transplants pose a more difficult question. With around 1 kidney per 5 patients that require it, should that organ be prioritized to patients that are doing their utmost to ensure its success? Such exclusions exist in other organ transplants – to receive a donor lung, patients are often required to be 6 months free of tobacco and other substances, such as marijuana. Alongside this, such requirements also include vaccinations, including Hepatitis B vaccines in the UK.
[H/T: Washington Post]