Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2003 / 19 Adar I, 5763

Michelle Malkin

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Tough questions about Jesica's transplants



http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | No one can deny that the plight of Jesica Santillan, the sick teenager who mistakenly received organs at Duke University from a donor with a different blood type, is a sad one.

But we cannot ignore the tough public policy questions in Jesica's case that the sob-story writers at the New York Times prefer to paper over:

  • When resources are scarce, as the supply of voluntarily donated organs notoriously are, why shouldn't U.S. citizens get top priority?

  • According to national figures, 16 patients die in the U.S. each day while waiting for a potentially life-saving transplant operation. How many American patients currently on the national organ waiting list were denied access to healthy hearts and lungs as a result of Santillan's two transplant surgeries? Who will tell their stories?

  • Finally, if Jesica recovers from the second heart-lung transplant, will any federal immigration authority have the guts to enforce the law and send her and her family back home to Mexico?

According to Times reporter Denise Grady, "Ms. Santillan's family moved from Mexico to North Carolina three years ago in hopes that she could be treated at Duke for restrictive cardiomyopathy, which caused an enlarged, weakened heart and damaged lungs."

But as other media outlets have more accurately and honestly detailed, Santillan's family didn't just "move" here. They came here illegally by paying a coyote $5,000 to smuggle Santillan and her mother across the border for the express purpose of obtaining medical care and circumventing long wait times in Mexico.

A North Carolina businessman, Mack Mahoney, founded a private charity to raise funds for Santillan's transplants. But the charity cannot replace the organs that were used in Santillan's surgeries. Those hearts and lungs are not fungible.

In all likelihood, taxpayers will be on the hook for Santillan's post-operative care one way or another. Transplant patients must take immunosuppressant medications for the life of the transplanted organs, for example. Typical costs of post-transplant drugs may be as much as $2,500 per month in the first year alone. And as we all know, Santillan's botched operation was far from typical. Her illegal immigrant parents will probably sue Duke University, adding further to this case's surgery-related costs.

The United Network for Organ Sharing, the non-profit group that coordinates the nation's transplant system, has established a policy that no more than 5 percent of the organs transplanted at any hospital are allowed to go to illegal immigrants or foreign nationals. But when medical facilities have tried to deny organ transplants to illegal aliens, they have been met with a political and media uproar. Last summer, for example, the Cleveland Clinic was pressured by a local Hispanic city councilman into admitting an illegal immigrant from Guatemala for a liver transplant after initially turning her away.

The costs of illegal alien health care are crippling hospitals across the country. In North Carolina, where Santillan's family has settled, a Medicaid emergency services program averages 221 new cases every month involving immigrants, many of them illegal, at a cost of about $32 million. As the Washington Times reported recently, dozens of hospitals in the 28 counties along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California have either closed their doors or face bankruptcy because of losses caused by uncompensated care given to illegal immigrants.

Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego was forced to close after losing more than $5 million a year in unreimbursed medical care, much of it for illegal immigrants, Times reporter Jerry Seper noted. The Southeast Medical Center in Douglas, Ariz., is on the verge of bankruptcy because of uncompensated care to undocumented aliens; the Cochise County, Ariz., Health Department spends as much as 30 percent of its annual $9 million budget on undocumented aliens; and the University Medical Center in Tucson will spend up to $10 million this year providing uncompensated alien health care.

New York medical providers have peformed dozens of organ-transplant operations - and even sex-change operations-- to illegal aliens. The costs of such "charity" care typically are shifted to insured patients, resulting in higher health insurance premiums.

In a world of scarce resources, compassion must have limits. We cannot afford to be a medical welcome mat to the world.

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JWR contributor Michelle Malkin is the author of, most recently, "Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores". To comment, please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate