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Trisha Torrey

Weighing In on Dick Cheney's New Heart

By March 26, 2012

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This is a post about ethics. Right and wrong. Fair and unfair. This post is about whether Dick Cheney, at the age of 71, was too old - or not - to have been given a transplanted heart.

This is a post about rationing vs age vs the efforts and money spent to keep older people alive.

And it's about your opinion. Whether or not you think it was fair and right for Dick Cheney to have received a heart - a very scarce human heart.

Some facts:

Former Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney (who served under George W. Bush - 44) has suffered heart disease his entire life since before his first heart attack at age 37. In all, he suffered five heart attacks, several surgeries, an implanted device that kept his heart going, and plenty of great health care which he was entitled to because he was, after all, the vice president.

On Saturday, at the age of 71, he received a heart transplant in the state of Virginia, after being on the waiting list for a new heart for 20 months.

Here is what had to happen for him to be chosen to receive that new heart:

He had to be deemed healthy enough to be able to sustain life using that new heart after the transplant - recovery and a lifetime of anti-rejection drugs.

He had to be put higher on the list than someone else who also needs a heart (and still today needs that heart.) That someone may or may not be younger than Cheney. That someone may or may not be healthier than Cheney.

The donor's body type and blood type had to match Cheney's. There may or may not have been someone else near the top of the list who also matched the donor.

Many people - medical professionals, ethicists and us plain 'ole citizens, wonder whether Dick Cheney was too old to have gotten that transplant. By virtue of the fact that he is 71, he is no longer working or considered a contributing member of society (he may be - we just don't often think of someone who is 70 in that way.) He does not have young children at home or a spouse relying on him for support (his spouse will be taken care of whether he survives or not.)

Should someone younger, perhaps someone who has a family or others dependent on him or her, someone who will, because he or she is younger, have received that heart instead?

I think the answer lies in one's point of view as related to their own age. If you are quite a bit younger than 71, then your opinion will differ from someone who is closer in age to 71, or older than 71....

And so I ask you: What do you think? Please take this poll - keeping in mind that YOUR age is just as important to your answer as the question of whether or not Dick Cheney is too old to have received a new heart.

Link here to learn more about the organ donation process.

Other transplant recipients who raised ethical questions:

Steve Jobs, His Transplant, and Whose Business Is It Anyway?
Convicted Rapist to Receive Heart Transplant?

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Agree? Disagree?
Share your experience or join the conversation!


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Photo Getty Images

March 26, 2012 at 2:25 pm
(1) Kate Murphy says:

Age isn’t as important as overall health.

Of course, most people who need a heart transplant aren’t in very good health, but assessing how likely the transplant is to give the recipient reasonably good health and good quality of life for several years should be the standard.

This isn’t simple to judge but can be based on previous cardiac treatment, other organs working well, and physical strength.

Age may be a factor in overall health, life expectancy, and physical strength.

I don’t think that having a family or an important job or finances should enter the equation.

The decision should be made not on whether transplant will save a life, but what kind of living will the patient have afterwards.

March 27, 2012 at 9:27 am
(2) George says:

Since when should a person’s family status have anything to do with care received? Single people are not valuable? Using that reasoning, should only people who are unemployed, unemployable and still having children receive priority care?

March 27, 2012 at 9:45 am
(3) Trisha Torrey says:

Good question about the family status George – my intent was to focus on dependents, no matter why they might be dependent. Single or couples has nothing to do with it, so I’m sorry if I wasn’t clearer on that. And it’s no judgment on dependency itself – it’s contained in whether we should be making judgment about age using those criteria. I’m asking the question, certainly not providing an answer.

As far as unemployed or unemployable or still having kids… that question is from left field. Not sure how it applies to what I wrote. In fact – if anything – it’s backwards from what I wrote.

But I’ll reiterate…. I’m not making judgments here. I’m simply providing food for thought – those subconscious values we as human beings make that tie into how we make decisions about ethical kinds of questions.

Hope you voted in the poll :-)

Thank for posting.

March 27, 2012 at 10:24 am
(4) George says:

Hi Trisha,

Thanks for responding.

My “comment from left field” comes from your statement “… he is no longer working or considered a contributing member of society (he may be – we just don’t often think of someone who is 70 in that way.) ”

“Unemployed” and “unemployable” seem synonymous with “no longer a contributing member of society…”

But, that’s how I read it.

March 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm
(5) Pat says:

My stepfather could not even be put on a list because they said he was too old and he was in his 60′s.

I later learned that there are several ‘lists’ and people with money, contacts, prestige, often get put on the shortest ones. This may mean flying them to different parts of the country to establish ‘residence’ so everything has the appearance of fairness.

I would like to learn more about the minutia of these lists, what communities they take organs from, how you qualify to be on EACH one and how doctors and others sometimes manipulate the system to ensure that their loved ones qualify for organs even though they would be too old if they were only ordinary people.

March 27, 2012 at 1:19 pm
(6) George says:

How about a survey that doesn’t ask respondents to use, or even allow, their approval or disapproval of Dick Cheney when we answer whether we think he should or should not receive a heart?

The survey could be, “rank these transplant qualifiers from most to least important” and then we’ll see what’s most important. Survey can include separate questions for respondents’ ages, genders, etc. and still allow flexibility for each respondent to rank all possible transplant criteria.

March 27, 2012 at 2:03 pm
(7) carolynp says:

Perhaps the names on the waiting list should also be anonymous. Just the medical records should be available to a team making the decision.

March 27, 2012 at 5:43 pm
(8) Quency Rene says:

My comment is that if he waited his fair turn. That means no consideration based on comparitive status relative to famous rich powerful vs regular unfamous 99% class person. No fancy strings or donating a hospital wing. If he got his heart on the up and up I have no problem. ….UNFORTUNATELY I don’t believe there is a snow balls chance in the hot place that he GT his heart fairly without the above mentioned consideration. That is very sad.

March 27, 2012 at 11:22 pm
(9) Lene says:

I can’t answer that without knowing how many other people over 70 receive organ transplants. If people over the age of 70 are usually not considered for a transplant, then he shouldn’t have received the heart. If people 70 and over regularly receive organ transplants, he should have received the heart.

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