Mainstream Media is Finally Catching On Regarding Law Enforcement Excesses and Human Tragedies Associated With Cannabis Prohibition
I spoke extensively last week with Willamette Weekly’s James Pipkin and on Monday with ABC’s Marcus Baram about NORML’s monitoring and gathering case examples from around the country where medical patients, notably medical marijuana patients, are being denied organ transplants. Marcus’ and James’ articles continue to cast more needed antiseptic light on this disturbing public health practice of official discrimination against otherwise lawful medical cannabis patients.
Heads up: Additionally, the Willamette Weekly has exposed the tragedy that confronts medical patients in Oregon — that no hospital in the state will perform organ transplants on patients who test positive for cannabis, even if they are in compliance with the state’s medical marijuana laws and are in the state’s medical marijuana patient registry.
Like the recent tragedy in Tallahassee regarding the tragic death of 23-year old Rachael Hoffman resulting from her being recruited as a ‘snitch’ for the local narcotic officers, the general public and maybe more importantly the general news beat media (AKA, mainstream media) have started to really bore down hard on the human tragedies that arise daily from cannabis prohibition–both in criminal enforcement of the laws, as well as how the prohibition trends upwards into important public institutions, such as in the delivery of medicine to sick, dying or sense-threatened medical patients.
Via our voices, collective consciousness and continued effective uses of employing empowering communication mediums like the Internet (i.e., webpages, podcasts, blogs, online videos and active online social networking), we can advance the long held goal and belief that an informed general public is the best path forward to ending cannabis prohibition may now finally be upon us.
I was heartened to see the Ventura Star editorialize against denying medical marijuana patients access to organ donor banks.
As the saying goes: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!
Let’s keep the collective pressure on the media, opinion and policy-makers to replace prohibition laws with viable, and common sense-based public policy alternatives.
Thanks to CA NORML’s Dale Gieringer, Ph.D and NLC member/2008 Aspen Legal Seminar faculty Doug Hiatt, Esq. for getting into the ABC news article!
Medical Marijuana User Denied Organ Transplant
Jonathan Simchen, Who Has Kidney Failure, Is Latest Example of User Turned Down for Organ Transplants
By MARCUS BARAM
May 20, 2008 —
When Jonathan Simchen was diagnosed with kidney failure last summer, he did just what the doctor ordered: He applied for a kidney transplant and took his prescribed medicine — medical marijuana.
The marijuana was meant to control his nausea.
Simchen, a 33-year-old diabetic who lives near Seattle, soon found out there was a Catch-22 rolled up in his legalized joints. He was turned down by two organ transplant programs because he uses medical marijuana.
“About two or three months after I got on dialysis, I went to Virginia Mason Hospital and they did a rigorous set of tests of my lungs, brain, circulatory system, a psychological evaluation,” Simchen told ABCNEWS.com.
“[They] took me off the list because they’re afraid of me being a future drug user,” said Simchen, who admits that he has used cocaine. But that was in the past and he even quit using medical marijuana at the hospital’s request.
When Simchen went to the University of Washington Medical Center, he says he was also turned down.
“They made it clear that if you had medical marijuana, they wouldn’t treat me. I just lost hope and got totally frustrated.”
Alisha Mark, a spokeswoman for Virginia Mason, would not discuss details of Simchon’s case because of medical privacy regulations, but said that “any patient who smokes any product — tobacco, cloves, medical marijuana — would be precluded from receiving a transplant here.”
The hospital, which performs 90 to 100 transplants a year, is concerned about medical safety in the evaluation of whether a patient is a suitable candidate for organ transfer, explained Mark.
“So few people are denied access to the waiting list. We’re not here to prevent them from getting on the list,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the University of Washington Medical Center also declined to discuss specifics of Simchon’s case, but said that medical marijuana use is only one of multiple factors, including behavioral concerns such as a history of substance abuse or dependency, examined by their transplant committee.
“We’ve never denied someone based solely on their use of medical marijuana,” said Clare Hagerty.
Simchon, whose lawyer is planning legal action against the transplant centers, could become a test case to challenge criteria of who is eligible to receive one of the life-giving organs.
Doug Hiatt, a criminal defense lawyer, has represented several clients including Timothy Garon, a Seattle musician who died earlier this month after being turned down for a liver transplant.
“Everyone else I’ve repped died on me,” said Hiatt. “This guy [Simchen] is in good enough shape that we can fight it out. & I realize that there is a shortage of organs and that doctors and hospitals have to do the best they can to take care of the organs they have, but it never dawned on me that they would discriminate against someone using marijuana under supervision, not as a street drug.”
There has never been a successful case brought in such cases, according to Dale Geringer, the California director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He could recall similar situations going back to 1997.
“The litigation takes months and years and these people have weeks or days,” he said.
Other transplant doctors and bioethicists, including some in states where medical marijuana is against the law, were surprised to hear about the refusals.
Vivian Tellis, the director of the transplant program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says that he would never turn somebody down because of a history of marijuana use or abuse. Because medical marijuana is not allowed in New York, most of those cases involve recreational use.
“There is no known contraindication between marijuana and the drugs you have to take after transplant,” Tellis said.
Tellis explains that an addictive personality is of concern “because if you’re high, you don’t take your [post-transplant regimen of] pills.”
Transplant centers tend to be very careful because they survive financially based on the number of successful transplants they do, explains Maxwell J. Mehlman, director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University.
“They use a screening process to avoid people who might be failures and they look at several factors from drug use to having a support system,” he said.
“It has actually been a source of bioethical controversy because it allows them to reject homeless people and people who live alone. In some cases, it’s a backdoor way of rationing based on social worth and lifestyles.”
Transplant centers insist that their utmost goal is to get organs to people who need them the most and ensuring patient safety.
The United Network of Organ Sharing, which includes 254 U.S. transplant centers, has no policy on the use of drugs or marijuana and leaves it up to their individual members to set reasonable guidelines.
Simchon, who is studying history and anthropology at a community college, is getting help from friends and strangers who are trying to get him into a transplant program.
“I’ve got hope that we can find a center that will put me on the list. I just wish it would happen in Washington, where I live.”
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