How Holy Do You Need To Be To Get A Pig Heart Transplant?

Healthcare

Earlier this week it was announced that 57-year-old David Bennett of Maryland became the first person to ever receive a genetically modified pig heart transplant. It's an experimental procedure and pretty much the only reason it was approved was because of the FDA's “compassionate use” provision that allows people who are at death's door to try unapproved treatments. It was big news, and rightly so, because if it works, it could save the lives of the 106,000 people currently on the list for a heart transplant. That's a huge deal.

So, naturally, the Washington Post and the New York Times both had to come out with dueling articles meant to Milkshake Duck this news by revealing the fact that Bennett had stabbed a man in a bar fight three decades ago, and the sister of the man he stabbed was pretty disappointed about the fact that he was getting this transplant.


Via New York Times:

The assault occurred on April 30, 1988, when [Edward] Shumaker, 22, was having a drink at a bar and talking with Mr. Bennett’s wife. In an apparent fit of jealousy, Mr. Bennett stabbed Mr. Shumaker in the back repeatedly.

The assault and its aftermath devastated the family, [his sister, Leslie Shumaker] Downey said. “It crushed my parents,” she said. “It was just hell.”

He was charged with assault, battery and maiming with intent to murder, according to court records obtained by The New York Times, but was convicted on lesser charges of battery and carrying a concealed weapon and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay Mr. Shumaker $29,824 in restitution, but Ms. Downey said he did not comply.

In an attempt to recover his substantial medical costs, Mr. Shumaker and his family sued Mr. Bennett and were awarded $3.4 million in damages, court records show. Ms. Downey said the family never received any money.

“The transplant gave him life,” Ms. Downey said of Mr. Bennett. “But my brother never got a second chance at life. Ed struggled every day for 19 years. No one deserves what he went through.”

Each article follows the same trajectory — an outrage inducing headline, an introduction to the sister and why she feels like this is unfair, followed up by some medical ethicists explaining why it would not be right to ration medical care based on moral goodness. The response on social media was similar, with some being angry at the thought of this guy getting a pig heart transplant and others pointing out how messed up it was to run such an article to begin with, because obviously it shouldn't matter.

It was not great journalism. It was not a story that needed to be told, it was a story that was obviously meant to stoke unneeded outrage in people who didn't manage to make it past the headline or the first four paragraphs — a rather large contingent of people given that the Times and the Post are both paywalled.

It would be very easy to be very high-minded and chastise people for feeling outraged about this and patiently explain that it would be pretty darned unethical to factor in a person's character and past misdeeds when deciding who does or does not get medical care. But their outrage says a lot about the health care system in this country. It's hard to imagine that people in a country where everyone had access to health care would get particularly worked up about something like this, especially considering that Bennett got an experimental pig heart transplant and thus wasn't taking a human heart away from a more deserving nun somewhere.

There is something worth being angry and outraged about here, and it is this:

In an attempt to recover his substantial medical costs, Mr. Shumaker and his family sued Mr. Bennett and were awarded $3.4 million in damages, court records show. Ms. Downey said the family never received any money.

It should not cost people money to be the victim of a crime.

I would personally argue that we should have subsidized healthcare for everyone, but I would like to think that we could all agree that victims of violent crimes should not have to pay their own medical bills.

This is a ridiculous system that we have going on here, where someone gets stabbed and unless they get stabbed by a super rich guy who is actually able to pay them $3.4 million in damages, they are responsible for their own medical bills. None of it makes any sense. We couldn't possibly have used taxpayer money to help this guy recover from a stabbing, but we can spend $30,000 or more a year to keep the guy who stabbed him in prison for however many years. If getting to see the guy who hurt you get hurt is the only healing we make available to victims of violent crimes and their families, it's no wonder they so frequently want to see it go on forever.

[New York Times]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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