Marijuana Smoker Norman Smith Booted From Cedars Sinai Hospital Liver Transplant List: Medical Pot Advocates Outraged
November 17, 2011
Dennis Romero, LA WeeklyMedical marijuana advocates are getting behind the plight of a cancer patient who says he has been kicked off a liver transplant list at Cedars Sinai Medical Center because he smokes medical marijuana.
The California-based group Americans for Safe Access has sent a letter to the Beverly Hills-adjacent hospital asking that 63-year-old Norman B. Smith be re-listed. It says the medical center is demanding the liver cancer patient abstain from pot smoking for six months before it will consider letting him back on the list.
Patients who are on medical marijuana have to sign a statement agreeing to stop and to submit to random drug tests, according to the center: If a patient doesn't stop or fails tests, he can be kicked off the list.
Cedars spokeswoman Sally Stewart tells the Weekly:
We make no moral or ethical judgement about marijuana usage. Our concern is strictly for the health of our patients.
The center states that patients who smoke pot can be susceptible to the possibly fatal mold Aspergillus, which apparently isn't good at a time when transplants make their immune systems vulnerable.
Other hospitals make patients stop smoking for six months prior to consideration for the list. Cedars does not.
"We want to do liver transplants," Stewart says. "We want to save peoples lives."
Medical pot advocates admit that Smith tested positive for pot use last February and was booted from the list as he was two months away from a possible transplant. They say he needs to be back on it because his cancer has emerged from remission.
The supporters claim that the hospital now wants Smith to take a six-month break from weed -- pot they say his own Cedars doctor has recommended as a remedy for the effects of chemotherapy and back pain.
[Clarification]: Cedars tells us the pot-recommending doctor is not a Cedars employee but does attend to patients there sometimes.
The ASA states:
Dr. Steven D. Colquhoun, the director of Cedars-Sinai's Liver Transplant Program compared Smith's legal medical marijuana use to "substance abuse." In a letter sent to Smith in May, Dr. Colquhoun indicated that the liver transplant center "must consider issues of substance abuse seriously since it does often play a role in the evolution of diseases that may require transplantation, and may adversely impact a new organ after a transplant."
The group is demanding the Cedars change its policy and allow pot smokers to stay on weed while they wait for transplants.
ASA chief counsel Joe Elford:
Denying necessary transplants to medical marijuana patients is the worst kind of discrimination. Cedars-Sinai would not be breaking any laws, federal or otherwise, by granting Norman Smith a liver transplant, and it's certainly the ethical thing to do.