Seattle, WA: University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) officials have denied a 56-year-old hepatitis C patient from receiving potentially life-saving surgery because of his state-approved medical cannabis use, according to a news wire report by the Associated Press.
According to the report, Timothy Garon may die within days without a liver transplant. Previously, Garon has used medical cannabis under his doctor’s supervision – and in accordance with state law — to treat his hepatitis C related nausea, abdominal pain, and lack of appetite. Garon’s physician has stated that he was not aware that his patient’s medicinal cannabis use would deny him transplant eligibility.
UWMC said it would reconsider its denial if Garon enrolled in a 60-day drug treatment program. After Garon’s attorney urged the hospital to reevaluate its position, given that Garon would likely not survive a 60-day program, UWMC reaffirmed its prior decision.
Individual hospitals adopt their own criteria for transplant eligibility, as there are no national or statewide standards.
“Marijuana, unlike alcohol, has no direct effect on the liver,” said Dr. Robert Sade, director of the Institute of Human Values in Health Care at the Medical Univesity of South Carolina, in an AP interview. Dr. Jorge Reyes, chief of the transplant division at UWMC, said that is not the only issue at hand. “The concern is that patients who have been using [medicinal cannabis] will not be able to stop.” While declining to comment on Garon’s case specifically, a statement released by the hospital said, “The committee looks at the period of abstinence the candidate has demonstrated to date, efforts made to maintain this abstinence and the potential to abuse again.”
Doctors generally try to discourage smoking after transplant surgery because of the increased risk of infection from the administration of immunosuppressant drugs.
Garon was arrested in December for cannabis cultivation, which he states is legal under Washington State’s medical marijuana law. Washington’s statute provides allowances for a ’60 day supply’ but does not define that term.
“I’m not angry, I’m not mad, I’m just confused,” Garon said last Thursday after hearing of the committee’s decision. Garon’s son, Lennon, is concerned that similar scenarios may occur in the future. “He’s not the first person that this happened to. He’s not going to be the last person until these policies are changed.”
For more information, contact NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre at (202) 483-5500.