Jennifer Wederell was a young British woman that suffered from cystic fibrosis. After waiting for 18 months for a lung transplant, she was told there was a match. Not knowing the transplant was from a smoker, Wederell had the transplant and less than 16 months later, died from a malignant mass.
Wederell’s father Colin Grannell explained how the hours before the surgery were spent explaining the risks. However, he said that not once did they mention it was from a smoker’s lungs.
Doctors explain that she wouldn’t have been better off refusing the lungs, had she known, because she was critically ill and had poor chance of short-term survival. Waiting for another set of organs to become available that matched her blood type and came from a non-smoker was unlikely to happen.
Most hospitals, even in the U.S., transplant the lungs of smokers as long as they are in good condition otherwise. Dr. G. Alexander Patterson, surgical director of lung transplants said his program would only turn down a smoker’s lungs if smoking history was too extreme.
Patterson also said most doctors don’t give detail about the smoking history of the donor unless asked directly. Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center disagrees.
“They absolutely should have told her. When you have reasons to think a donor organ is suboptimal in some way, you must disclose it and allow a person to make their own decision. People have to know the risks they face,” Caplan stated.
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