For over a week now, undocumented immigrants, many on a hunger strike, have gathered outside a prestigious Chicago-area hospital to demand free organ transplants for themselves and others who entered the country illegally.
About 40 demonstrators joined the 14 hunger strikers gathered outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital to protest the facility’s stance on providing organ transplants to immigrants not possessing a green card, according to Fox-32 Chicago.
“We’re asking for help,” said Blanca Gomez, 23, who needs a kidney transplant. “I go to dialysis three times a week. I’m not going off the hunger strike until I get on the transplant list.”
None of the hunger strikers are U.S. citizens or even documented immigrants. All are from Mexico and require either a liver or kidney transplant that they can’t afford on their own, and they’re unable to obtain federal health care benefits such as Medicaid.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital is a teaching facility connected to Northwestern University, and is one of the few medical centers in the Chicagoland area to offer live donor liver transplants.
In 2012, Northwestern Memorial Hospital was named Illinois’ number one hospital by by U.S. News & World Report in 13 medical specialties. It also received 11 other prestigious awards in 2012 according to its website.
The situation represents an ethical dilemma, according to Dr. David Ansell, chief medical officer at Rush University Medical Center.
“On the one hand, the intent of the national transplant registry is to base transplants on who needs them most, but there are indeed a whole group of people who find themselves shut out,” he said. “And these are people who are uninsurable, and it creates an ethical dilemma of doing the right thing against the extreme cost of doing a transplant.”
Northwestern officials said in a statement released late Monday that prospective candidates for organ transplantation are evaluated “against a rigorous set of standards” and that “U.S. citizenship is not among them.” The statement read:
“Our multidisciplinary teams of clinicians and social workers review a host of determining factors that might forecast an individual’s chances for a successful surgery as well as their means for long-term stability with a transplanted organ.”
The statement continued:
“Our processes follow policies compliant with federal regulations. … We believe such careful and meticulous standards ensure fair and equitable evaluation of everyone seeking transplant and allow us to ensure the greatest opportunities for viability of patients with donated organs.”
In a Chicago Sun-Times report, Ansell noted that uninsured people account for 20 percent of the organs donated in this country, while only one percent of the people who receive organ transplants are uninsured.
Osbeidy Rivera, the sister of a Mexican immigrant who needs a kidney, and who is both undocumented and uninsured claims those statistics are unfair.
“If you’re not a citizen, you could still donate,” she told Chicago’s NBC channel 5. “But when it comes to people who don’t have documents, they don’t want to help them. It’s sad.”