Sunday, March 21, 2010

Steve Jobs Pushes For California Organ Donor Legislation

Apple CEO Steve Jobs, 55, who had a liver transplant last year in Tennessee, made a surprise visit to Stanford's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital on Friday to promote a new legislative effort to expand the number of California organ donors.

While Steve Jobs described how his life was saved by the liver transplant, and said that patients with less wealth and fame should have the same opportunities, it's clear that can never be the case. Jobs' doctors advised him to enroll in a transplant program in Memphis, TN, where the supply-demand ratio of livers is more favorable than it is in California.

Methodist Hospital in Memphis said Jobs did not receive favoritism, but rather received his transplant because he was the sickest patient on the wait list, with a matching blood type, when a donor organ became available. However, only someone with Jobs' wealth and a private jet could make the cross-country trip to Memphis in four hours, the window necessary for the organ to remain viable. Alternatively, they would have to wait in a nearby home or hotel, which also means abandoning one's life and perhaps job, as well as money for the rental.

That said, the new legislation is designed to increase the number of donors in-state. 98 percent of the organs donated in California come via the DMV. The rest come from the online donor registry. However, of the 26 million drivers in the state, only 6.3 million have signed to be organ and tissue donors. This is among the lowest rates in the nation.

Those fearing the new bill should remain calm: the new bill would not require applicants for a driver's license in California to agree to donation. Rather, it would simply require that they answer the question of whether or not they will agree. Currently, the DMV issues a license regardless of whether the applicant answers that question.

The bill would also create a "California Living Donor Registry." That would connect sick patients with altruistic strangers who are willing to donate a kidney. According to Stanford physicians, kidney donation is relatively safe and does not shorten a donor's life span.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger thanked Jobs for his efforts. Steve Jobs is known to be a very private person. He had not spoken publicly regarding his transplant before this event. Schwarzenegger said:
"Steve Jobs was very instrumental in getting us here today. He put the pressure on us to get this bill going."
The governor also added details on how this all came to pass, when Steve Jobs spoke to Schwarzenegger's wife Maria Shriver last Christmas, and ...
"talked to my wife about his transplant and then my wife talked to me about it, and I talked to him about it, and we had these great phone conversations back and forth and now here it is reality — we are introducing the bill.

"What I like about Steve is, because he is a wealthy man that helped him get the transplant. But he doesn't want that — that only wealthy people can get the transplant and have a plane waiting to take him anywhere he needs to go.

"He wants every human being, if you have no money at all or if you're the richest person in the world, everyone ought to have the right to get a transplant immediately."
That sentiment should be applauded but as noted above, it simply won't be possible: the wealthy will always have better access.

The wealthy will also always have the capability of paying for such a transplant. The United States still is the only industrialized nation without Universal Health Care, and the results of that lack are evident statistically: compare UNICEF's statistics for the U.S. vs. Cuba, which is a third-world country yet has universal health care, to be unpleasantly surprised. Additionally, add in Canada, which prior to instituting its own Universal Health Care system was statistically similar to the U.S.:

Under 5 mortality rate (2008): U.S. 8, Cuba 6, Canada 6
Life expectancy at birth (years), 2008: U.S. 79, Cuba 79, Canada 81

For those concerned about deficits: how much would you be willing to spend to an extra two years of life? How many extra taxes would you be willing to pay to ensure a safety net where you would not go bankrupt because of unexpected medical costs, which causes the most bankruptcies in the U.S. every year?

You can watch video of the press event here.
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