WaPo, NYT ignite firestorm for exposing criminal past of man who received historic pig heart transplant

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(Video Credit: Reuters)

The ethics of selecting a Maryland man named David Bennett Sr., 57, for a historic heart transplant from a genetically altered pig are being questioned by the media after it was revealed he repeatedly stabbed a man 34 years ago leaving him paralyzed.

Bennett’s new heart is working well according to doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. He has a long way to go but if the procedure is deemed a success it could pave the way to save many, many lives.

Currently, over 106,000 Americans are on organ-transplant waiting lists and 17 people reportedly die every day waiting for a human organ, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.

“It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” Bennett contended in a statement before the surgery was performed. “I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”

He had been deemed an unsuitable candidate for a human heart transplant. Bennett had been admitted to the hospital due to life-threatening arrhythmia and agreed to undergo the risky procedure after being briefed on the potential risks.

The historic surgery was cause for celebration, but when Leslie Shumaker Downey saw the headlines, she did not see it that way. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that in 1988, Bennett was convicted of stabbing Downey’s younger brother, Edward Shumaker, seven times, leaving him paralyzed. He would use a wheelchair for the following 19 years. Her brother would succumb to a stroke in 2005 and passed away a week before his 41st birthday in 2007.

“Ed suffered the devastation and the trauma for years and years that my family had to deal with,” Downey told the Washington Post.

The New York Times also ran with the story of Bennett’s criminal past. Both outlets made it seem as if Bennett did not deserve the transplant or a chance to live, enraging readers.

Bennett was reportedly ordered by a court to pay Shumaker and his family $3.4 million in damages. Downey asserts that her family never received a dime from him.

He “went on and lived a good life” after six years in prison, Downey stated. “Now he gets a second chance with a new heart — but I wish, in my opinion, it had gone to a deserving recipient.”

Medical ethics experts assert that a patient’s criminal history should not factor into decisions about transplants.

“In general, medicine does not take into account criminal history in selecting people for treatments or experiments,” Arthur Caplan, who is a bioethics professor at New York University, told Business Insider. “They try not to sort out bad people from good people. They treat everybody.”

“We have a legal system designed to determine just redress for crimes,” Scott Halpern, who is a medical ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Washington Post. “And we have a healthcare system that aims to provide care without regard to people’s personal character or history.”

The University of Maryland Medical Center said in a statement that “it is the solemn obligation of any hospital or healthcare organization to provide lifesaving care to every patient who comes through their doors based on their medical needs, not their background or life circumstances.”

“This patient came to us in dire need, and a decision was made about his transplant eligibility based solely on his medical records,” the statement added.

Bennett was declared ineligible for a transplant by several hospitals. He couldn’t get an artificial heart pump due to his arrhythmia.

The Washington Post reported that Bennett’s son, David Bennett Jr., claimed that hospitals had refused to add his father to the waiting list because he previously failed to follow doctor’s orders, take his medication regularly, and attend follow-up visits.

Many are wondering why the man’s past is an issue at all in the media when it comes to a life-saving transplant:


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