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Hospital Prescribes Cancer Patient Pot, Then Refuses Him a Life-Saving Transplant

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  1. talltom
    Norman Smith was within two months of receiving a liver transplant when the same hospital that prescribed him the pot de-listed him. Now, he may die as the result. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has denied a liver transplant to a patient with inoperable liver cancer because he uses medical marijuana. But the marijuana was prescribed by the very same hospital, according to the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA).

    Sixty-three year-old Norman B. Smith was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in 2009. His oncologist at Cedars-Sinai, Dr. Steven Miles, approved of his medical marijuana use as a means to deal with the effects of chemotherapy and pain from an unrelated back surgery.

    In September 2010, Smith became eligible for a liver transplant, but after testing positive for marijuana in February he was removed from the transplant list due to non-compliance with the hospital’s substance abuse contract. Smith was within two months of receiving a transplant before he was de-listed.

    He is scheduled to undergo radiation treatments in the next few days.

    ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford in a letter urged the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to change its transplant eligibility policy, which ran counter to the hospital’s stated mission of “providing the highest quality patient care that modern medicine has to offer.”

    “While your liver transplant policies are likely motivated by the best intentions, the decision to deny Mr. Smith eligibility for a liver transplant based solely on his compliance with California law and the advice of his physician is extremely misguided and may prove fatal,” he wrote.

    In a letter sent to Smith in May, the director of Cedars-Sinai’s Liver Transplant Program said 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.”

    But the group noted that studies have found marijuana use did not adversely affect liver transplantation.

    In order to be put back on the liver transplant list, Smith is required to abstain from marijuana use for at least six months and participate in weekly substance abuse counseling over the same period. Even if he is re-listed, he will be re-added to the bottom of the list.

    ASA seeks to change this harmful and uncompassionate policy not only for Smith’s benefit, but also for the benefit of numerous other medical marijuana patients who are being made to suffer unnecessarily as a result of political ideology,” said Elford.

    In 2008, a medical marijuana patient from Seattle died after being denied a liver transplant by the University of Washington Medical Center. Less than a year later, another medical marijuana patient from Big Island died at Hilo Hospital after being denied a liver transplant.

    Eric W. Dolan
    Raw Story
    November 22, 2011

    http://www.alternet.org/drugs/153174/

Comments

  1. talltom
    A related follow-up article:

    Sick: LA Hospital Denies Life-Saving Organ Transplant to Medical Pot User (Again)

    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."

    Phillip Smith
    Drug War Chronicle
    June 18, 2012

    http://www.alternet.org/story/155894
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