When Steve Jobs received a liver transplant two years ago, there were approximately 16,000 people on the waiting list. Only 1,581 people received a liver. Steve Jobs was one of them, even though there was no proof that a new liver would stop or even slow Jobs’ cancer. Thus, some commentators have now asked the question: Did Steve Jobs waste a liver?
This extremely difficult question pondered in 2009 by bioethicist, Dr. Arthur Caplan, PhD, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center on Bioethics. And it was not meant in any way to be a personal attack on Jobs, nor a question of Job’s personal morals. Caplan even pointed out how much he admired Jobs. However, when it comes to the way health care is run in the United States, whenever an extremely wealthy person is able to receive special benefits, it is a question that must be asked.
Caplan pointed out how difficult it is to get a liver transplant. There are several steps and each one is extremely expensive. Even if you have insurance, there is no guarantee that you can get what you need.
The parents of 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan sued Cigna Healthcare in 2008 when they refused to guarantee payment for a liver transplant at UCLA Medical Center. The family could not pay and she was not admitted to the transplant program. So she died.
Paying was not a problem for Jobs. And he got into the right transplant programs. He then was able to afford going to Tennessee where liver transplant wait lists are shorter. He did not break any rules or pay anybody off. He received his liver legally. However, Caplan says that the system needs to be fixed.
"It's perfectly understandable that [Jobs] is going to use the system and his resources and try to get the care he needs," Caplan told American Medical News in 2009. "I understand that from the point of view of personal survival. But the whole point of the allocation system was to try and balance off the differences in people's financial ability to work the system by having some distribution rules."
According to Slate bioethicist, William Saletan, it is likely that Jobs’ liver would have been of better use on somebody else. Among liver recipients, cancer patients have the worst survival rate.
“While more than 70 percent of liver recipients in Jobs’ age bracket are still alive and functioning five years later, Jobs lasted only half that long,” he wrote.
“Spending that liver on Jobs seems unfair, given the scarcity of organs,” Saletan added.
But Saletan, like Caplan, says that instead of wondering if Jobs wasted a liver, we should wonder how to fix the problem of why it is so difficult to get a liver in the first place and try to make the system better, which Jobs had a hand in doing himself.
Jobs was also influential in getting California to be the first state in the nation to create a live donor registry for kidney transplants, Saletan wrote. The bill also requires California drivers to decide whether they want to be organ donors when they renew their drivers' licenses.
“If you want to honor Jobs and his donor, don’t just recycle your computer. Recycle your body,” Saletan wrote. “Register as an organ donor, and spread the word. You can help the next Steve Jobs reboot the machine that matters most.”