Posted by Indigo (188.8.131.52) on February 28, 2003 at 13:40:10:
YORK, Neb. (Feb. 28) - Calvin Stock's life was saved by a liver transplant three years ago, and he would hate to see anyone else lose their chance at survival because a convicted killer was ahead of them on the transplant list.
But that's exactly what could happen, Stock says, because of Carolyn Joy's conditional approval to be included on the list of 118 Nebraskans and 17,300 people nationwide waiting for new livers.
``She made her choice. It sounds real cruel to say that, but nonetheless, we all have choices in our life,'' said Stock, a 68-year-old retired Lexington farmer.
Joy, sentenced to life in prison for the 1983 murder of another prostitute in Omaha, admits her liver was ruined by almost daily heroin and alcohol abuse over nine years.
Stock fears people will tear up their donor cards if they learn their organs may go to felons.
``It's just going to do great damage to the organ donation program as we know it,'' he said.
The woman known as Mama Joy by other inmates at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women has been the focus of a medical ethics debate since Omaha television station KETV first reported Feb. 3 that she had been evaluated by doctors for a possible liver transplant.
Joy, 49-years-old and drug free for nearly 20 years, said she is not surprised that others object to her possibly getting a liver.
``I know how society is,'' Joy said. ``It's like, 'Oh my gosh, she's a murderer and on top of that, she wants one of our organs? What makes her so special?'''
But the biggest complaint from the dozens of people who have called or e-mailed the Nebraska Health System in Omaha, where Joy would get the transplant, is that the state would have to pay for it, said Kolleen Thompson, manager of the hospital's Organ Recovery Services.
Taxpayers would pay up to $200,000 for Joy's transplant because of a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prisoners have a constitutional right to equal medical care. The decision requires government entities to cover the medical costs of their inmates.
A 32-year-old California inmate last year is believed to be the nation's first prisoner to receive a heart transplant. The convicted robber died 11 months later.
Dr. Alan Langnas, head of transplant surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said doctors are only considering the transplant from the standpoint of whether Joy is medically a good candidate.
``Whether or not she's a prisoner or not does not enter the equation,'' Lagnas said. ``Ethically as a physician, it's our responsibility to be advocates for whatever patients we are treating.''
Dr. Lainie Friedman Ross with the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago, said people should receive transplants based on need, not social standards.
``I'm a workaholic, and when I get my first heart attack I'll say I've earned it but no one will keep me off a list for that,'' Ross said. ``We don't blame the workaholic but we blame the alcoholic. ... Yeah, she belongs on the list like I belong on the list.''
Bill Grimes, 76, received a heart transplant 15 years ago and helped start a support group for transplant recipients in central Nebraska called Seconds for Life.
``I just absolutely can't pass judgment on anybody,'' Grimes said. ``I feel everybody should have the same chance I had.''
Whether Joy gets a liver will depend on her. Doctors have told the 5-foot-10, 195-pound woman that she must lose 30 pounds and get her diabetes under control before they will put her on a transplant list. She's already lost 70 pounds the last two years, some because of illness.
She's given herself until mid-April to meet both goals. Once the weather warms up, she plans to restart her exercise regime of eight laps around the prison courtyard twice a day.
``The doctors that I've seen said that I need to get busy and start doing what I'm supposed to or else I won't make it to see my liver come in,'' said Joy, who wears stocking caps to hide her thinning auburn hair.
Joy says she doesn't know if she deserves a liver. She believes she has paid her debt to society and answers only to her family and God. But she says she has trouble sleeping when she thinks about all the other people who need livers.
``I want a chance just like they do,'' she said.
She said if she were to get a new liver and be paroled at her next hearing in 2006, she would take her 3-year-old grandson to the movies and watch him grow into a young man.
Joy said she would consider passing up a liver to allow someone in a more dire situation to get one, especially if the person immediately behind her on the transplant list was a young mother.
``I'd step back and let that lady have the liver because she has a child,'' Joy said. ``She has a life.''
She also has made peace with the possibility she may not get the transplant and soon die.
``I'm not going to blame nobody,'' she said.
02/28/03 01:34 EST
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