The hype is around David Bennett, the 57-year-old patient who underwent a pig heart transplant in Maryland last Friday. Bennett apparently stabbed a love rival seven times in 1988. He was convicted and spent several years in prison. The sister of Bennett’s victim believes that Bennett as a criminal did not deserve the medical world first. Hence, it opens an ethical debate.
The Washington Post, The New York Times
Leslie Shoemaker Downey received the link to the article about Bennett from her daughter on Monday. The daughter wrote: “Mom, look at that name.” Downey caught a cold when she saw Doctor Who First Patient David Bennett Sr. used to be. This was the man who was convicted in 1988 of inflicting seven stabs on Downey’s younger brother, Edward Shoemaker, in a bar in the US state of Maryland. Bennett’s wife at the time sat on Edward Schumacher’s lap as they talked and drank together. David Bennett (then 23 years old) couldn’t stand it. He pulled out a knife and stabbed the 22-year-old Shoemaker in the back, stomach, and chest. The victim survived the attack, but was paralyzed in his lower limbs, and spent the next nineteen years in a wheelchair and suffered from a variety of medical complications. Shoemaker died a week before his 41st birthday, having suffered a stroke two years earlier, in 2005.
Bennett was sentenced to ten years in prison for his actions in 1988, but was not ordered to serve the full sentence. According to Schumaker’s family, he was released after five years. Nor would he have paid compensation of around 26,000 euros. In October last year, Bennett developed heart problems and suffered from swollen legs and fatigue. He turned out to be terminally ill and was chosen as the first man to be transplanted with an engineered pig’s heart. It happened last Friday, successfully. According to doctors, Bennett is doing well after the nine-hour surgery.
The surgery hit Bennett hard among Ed Shoemaker’s relatives. “Ed gave up,” his sister says. “My family has had to endure drama and trauma for years and years.” According to Downey, she lost both of her parents. “It was hell.” While Bennett got a “good life” after serving in prison, she said. “And now he has a second chance with a new heart. I would have preferred to go to a patient who deserves it. That’s how I feel about it.” She told The New York Times of Bennett, “The transplant gave him life, but my brother never got a second chance at life. Ed struggled every day for 19 years. No one deserved what he went through.”
This opens the ethical debate about who is most deserving of such a life-saving medical procedure. The Washington Post writes that more than 106,000 Americans are on the national waiting list for organ transplants and 17 people die every day who are unable to receive an organ. The fact that convicted dangerous criminals also qualify for such life-saving medical treatment may come as a shock to the families of their victims, the newspaper said.
Doctors cannot agree to this in principle. “The most important principle in medicine is to treat any sick person, no matter who they are,” Arthur Kaplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University, told The Washington Post. “It is not our duty to distinguish between sinners and saints. Crime is a matter of law.” Kaplan notes that this is an experimental procedure that can also go wrong. “To be clear, he didn’t take a human organ from anyone. Nobody died because he got a pig’s heart.
Scott Halpern, professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, believes that this distinction between legal and medicine is necessary. “We have a justice system designed to determine fair compensation for crimes,” Halpern says. “And we have a health care system that wants to provide care regardless of people’s personalities or their pasts.”
The University of Maryland Medical Center, which treated Bennett, declined to say whether it had knowledge of Bennett’s criminal history. The Baltimore Hospital where the transplant was performed claims that it was based solely on the patient’s medical background. Bennett was not eligible for a regular heart transplant due to arrhythmias and other heart problems.
Bennett’s son, David Bennett Jr., said many hospitals refused to put his father on waiting lists because he refused to follow up on doctors’ demands and failed to show up for consultations. He also did not take his medication regularly.
See also: Heart patient receives pig’s heart via transplant
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