Inmate Who Received State-Funded Heart Transplant Dies; Debate Over Prison Health Care Renewed
A 32-year old California inmate whose heart transplant early this year "caused a wave of outrage" over state-funded prison health care on Monday died of heart failure because his body rejected the organ, the Los Angeles Times reports. The unnamed inmate died at Stanford University Medical Center after two weeks in critical condition (Warren, Los Angeles Times, 12/18). The inmate, sentenced to 14 years in prison for a 1996 robbery in Los Angeles, received the heart transplant on Jan. 3. The transplant raised questions about whether state should limit some treatments for inmates with illnesses (California Healthline, 1/25). The heart transplant and the subsequent care through the end of October cost the state $913,000, which does not include the most recent treatment at Stanford Medical Center (Los Angeles Times, 12/18). The $913,000 also does not include the cost of transportation, medication or the security required when the inmate visited the hospital; the total cost of the heart transplant and the subsequent care for the inmate could reach more than $2 million, according to Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections. Heimerich said that the inmate did not adhere to all of the medical recommendations he received after the transplant (Wiegand, Sacramento Bee, 12/18).
News of the death of inmate has renewed debate over the cost of state-funded prison health care; opponents of the system maintain that inmates should not qualify for organ transplants and question whether the state should fund such procedures. Mary Wallace, a spokesperson for the Oakland donor network, said that some individuals have "ripped up their donor cards" and have called the center and said, "'I won't be a donor unless you can guarantee my organ isn't going to a prisoner'" (Wasserman, AP/Contra Costa Times, 12/18). Others have questioned whether the state should cover the cost of "elaborate" medical procedures for inmates when "law-abiding" patients must wait for organ transplants, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 12/18). Medical professionals and organ transplant centers decide who receives organs based on medical criteria, not social criteria, Dr. Lawrence Schneiderman, a medical ethicist at the University of California-San Diego, said (AP/Contra Costa Times, 12/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.