An unmarried couple who had been together for 21 years and had an eighteen-year-old son together had to deal with a life-altering situation when the man’s kidneys were failing due to his diabetes and kidney dialysis wasn’t working well for him. Out of a sense of compassion and caring, the woman offered to donate one of her kidneys to the man to save his life. Repeated routine blood testing of the donor showed that she had hepatitis C, a serious and potentially life-threatening virus that can destroy the liver, that would have disqualified her as a kidney donor.
Nonetheless, the woman was not told that she had hepatitis C and the kidney transplant was performed. The transplantation itself went well. Afterwards, the man was diagnosed with hepatitis C. According to the medical malpractice lawsuit, the hospital tried to blame the woman for causing the man to contract hepatitis C and tried to cover up its mistake by asking the woman to keep the man’s hepatitis C diagnosis from him.
The medical treatment for the man’s hepatitis C can harm his new kidney and result in organ failure and death. The man and woman have filed two medical malpractice lawsuits against the hospital, the doctors involved with his kidney transplant, and other medical staff.
Between 2007 and 2010, more than 200 cases of suspected (but unexpected) transmission of serious viruses as a result of transplanted organs were investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In general, a kidney transplanted from a living donor is better than a kidney from a cadaver. There are nearly 17,000 kidney transplants performed in the United States each year, with almost 6,200 of the kidneys coming from living donors. There are more than 28,000 organs of all types that are transplanted in the United States each year, which falls way short of the 112,000 people who need organ transplants and the more than 6,500 people who die each year waiting for a donor organ to become available.
Organ transplantation offers a better quality of life to organ recipients and an opportunity to live a longer life. Medical advancements have allowed organ transplantation to come a long way towards accomplishing both goals. But despite advances in transplantation techniques and organ rejection medications, we must still rely on the human factor in ensuring the best possible outcome from organ transplants.
Since organ transplants first became part of mainstream medicine, medical experts participating in transplant programs have known how important it is to ensure that the proper donor organs are transplanted into the proper organ recipients. It is generally accepted that the health history of the donor must be examined and medical tests performed to make sure that the organ donor is an appropriate candidate to donate an organ. Viruses such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and the virus that causes AIDS can reside in the blood and the organs of organ donors and it is imperative that the proper testing be done of the organ donor to minimize danger to the organ recipient; after all, medical ethics is ruled by the maxim expressed by the Latin phrase primum non nocere (“first, do no harm).”
If the allegation in the Pennsylvania medical malpractice case that the hospital should have known by the results of the woman’s blood tests that she had hepatitis C before she became a kidney donor for her long-time companion is true, then it would be an egregious violation of the the man’s rights and a clear breach of the standard of care (that is, medical malpractice) to have not advised the woman with regard to her hepatitis C status and to have transplanted her kidney into her companion, especially without advising the man of the situation.
We must put our faith and trust in the expertise and ethics of our health care providers in making appropriate medical decisions with regard to our medical care and treatment because they are the ones with the specialized knowledge and training that we lack in deciding our own fate. However, our medical providers are duty-bound to fully and properly advise us of our medical conditions and medical treatment options so that we may make an informed decision as to our medical treatment. If our medical providers hide from us information that a reasonable patient would want and expect to know about his or her condition or medical treatment, then the medical providers have breached their duty and may be held accountable for their actions.
When the actions or omissions of a medical provider may be the cause of serious injuries or even death, the services of a medical malpractice attorney may be essential in determining if medical malpractice has occurred.
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