LA Hospital Denies Life-Saving Organ Transplant to Medical Pot User (Again)
June 17, 2012
Phillip Smith, AlterNet
Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles has for the second time in the past year denied a life-saving organ transplant to a patient because of her medical marijuana use, Americans for Safe Access reported this week. The hospital removed qualified medical marijuana patient Toni Trujillo from its kidney transplant list earlier this year, citing her medical marijuana use.
Trujillo has had kidney problems most of her life and has been on dialysis for the past five years, since an earlier transplanted kidney began failing. She came to California from Pennsylvania two years ago to take advantage of specialized treatment offered at Cedars-Sinai. She explained that to her physician at Cedars that she used medical marijuana as an appetite stimulant to increase her protein levels -- a critical need for dialysis patients -- and got no negative feedback.
She continued to use medical marijuana while awaiting her transplant. Then, in April, after being on a waiting list for six years, Trujillo was told over the phone that she had been de-listed because her medical marijuana use was considered "substance abuse." She was never sent a formal de-listing letter, confirming her status.
"Denying necessary transplants to medical marijuana patients is the worst kind of discrimination," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who authored a letter to Cedars-Sinai urging the hospital to reconsider. "Cedars-Sinai would not be breaking any laws, federal or otherwise, by granting Toni Trujillo a kidney transplant, and it's certainly the ethical thing to do."
Trujillo's plight echoes that of Norman Smith, a medical marijuana patient who was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in 2009. Smith's oncologist at Cedars-Sinai, Dr. Steven Miles, approved of his medical marijuana use as a means to deal with the effects of chemotherapy, but Smith was removed from the liver transplant list in 2011 because of medical marijuana, just two months before he would have been eligible. Last week, Smith was told he had 90 days to live. ASA also sent a letter on Smith's behalf.
Cedars-Sinai told both Trujillo and Smith they must not only test negative for marijuana for six months to re-qualify for the wait list, but also take drug abuse counseling for the same period. Both are complying with the requirements and have chosen to forgo using medical marijuana, though it has a significant therapeutic benefit for them. Smith could especially benefit as he is currently undergoing chemotherapy for his cancer, and his appetite is severely diminished. It appears Trujillo and Smith may eventually be put back on the list, but at the bottom. Trujillo recently contracted peritonitis, a bacterial infection, as a result of her dialysis.
"I don't know why Cedars would deny me a transplant simply because I use a legal medication that works for me," said Trujillo. "I hope they listen to reason and change their misguided policy, if not for me then at least for the others who will certainly follow."