WASHINGTON: A startling revelation that the recipient of a successful pig heart transplantation last week had a criminal record has stirred a furious debate in the US on principles and propriety relating to medical treatment of convicts in a society already divided over the ethics of xenotransplantation – the use of animal organs in humans. David Bennett, 57, who has been saved for now from a terminal heart condition by doctors who transplanted a porcine heart into him, had got a ten-year sentence in 1988 after he stabbed a young man, leaving the latter wheelchair-bound with medical complications till his death in 2007. The victim’s family got news of Bennett’s successful transplantation in shock over the weekend, telling the media the trauma and troubles they went through after the horrific attack.
“The transplant gave him (Bennett) life. But my brother never got a second chance at life. Ed struggled every day for 19 years,” the victim Edward Shumaker’s sister Leslie Downey told the media, suggesting that the transplant should have gone to a more “deserving recipient”. Sections of the mainstream media and people on social media took a sympathetic view of argument. “More than 1,06,000 Americans are on the national waiting list for an organ transplant, and 17 people die each day never receiving the organ they need. In the face of such a shortage, it can seem unconscionable to some families that those convicted of violent crimes would be given a lifesaving procedure so many desperately need,” the Washington Post noted.
But doctors involved in the transplantation are clear that the patient’s criminal background is not relevant in matter. The University of Maryland Medical Center, where the surgery was conducted, said “lifesaving care to every patient who comes through their doors based on their medical needs, not their background or life circumstances.” “Any other standard of care would set a dangerous precedent and would violate the ethical and moral values that underpin the obligation physicians and caregivers have to all patients in their care,” the centre said, adding, “This patient came to us in dire need and a decision was made about his transplant eligibility based solely on his medical records.”
The wrangling came on the heels of a larger debate about the ethics of xenotransplantation. “We are so afraid of dying that we will now genetically modify another highly intelligent being, without its consent, and raise its offspring as harvestable medical supply-chain product? Disgusting,” a clinician who deals with solid-organ transplant regularly, wrote.



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