Organ Transplants and Immigration Laws

Anyone who has had to wait for an organ transplant knows the stress and challenges of the situation. Organ transplants require enormous amounts of money (or excellent insurance coverage) and finding an eligible donor in time. In many cases, those who need organ transplants lose much time at work and suffer from pain for months. Even after a successful transplant, there is a long recovery period as patients and doctors work to ensure that the new organ will not be rejected by the recipient’s body.

A recent case has stirred the debate about illegal immigration and organ transplants. Jesus Navarro was initially denied a kidney transplant when physicians at the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center found that he was an undocumented immigrant. Navarro had a living and qualified donor in his wife (also an undocumented immigrant) and more than enough private health care insurance to cover the procedure and his subsequent recovery. In fact, the transplant would save his insurance carrier money, as it would be less expensive than the on-going dialysis Navarro was receiving.

Once media coverage of the situation broke and once the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center started getting unwanted attention over the issue, the facility released a statement saying that the issue was whether patients have enough medical coverage to cover follow-up care, which is substantial after organ transplants. The University of California-San Francisco Medical Center eventually stated that it would allow Navarro to get the transplant if Navarro had adequate insurance.

According to some statistics, illegal immigrants donate about 2.5% of all transplanted organs annually in the US. However, they are recipients of less than 1% of all organ transplants. This disparity has some claiming that the system is heavily biased against undocumented immigrants. In some cases, undocumented immigrants may lack the insurance to cover the costs of a transplant, but Navarro’s case brings to mind another question: are undocumented workers being denied transplants in some cases due to their status?

Some experts, for example, have pointed out that Navarro has more coverage than many US organ transplant recipients who get transplants with no problems and no issues. Some experts have also noted that the US system of healthcare requires all physicians to take the Hippocratic Oath, which means that doctors swear to give everyone medical assistance, regardless of who they are. In fact, the US permits organ transplants to felons and ensures emergency room treatment even for criminals. This makes Navarro’s case even more troubling, since it seems to go against the very principles on which the system is founded.