Man Prevented From Getting New Kidney For Smoking Marijuana

medicalmarijuana March 30, 2017 Comments Off on Man Prevented From Getting New Kidney For Smoking Marijuana
Man Prevented From Getting New Kidney For Smoking Marijuana

Garry Godfrey uses medical marijuana to help with the effects of Alport Syndrome, a disease that will soon cause his kidneys to fail. But that drug is also preventing him from getting the kidney transplant he needs: Godfrey was removed from the donation waiting list because the hospital doesn’t allow transplant recipients to use marijuana.

Godfrey had been on Maine Medical Center’s transplant list since 2003, according to a local news station, but was kicked off of it in 2012 because of his marijuana use. He was told, the Portland Press Herald said, that if he stopped using marijuana then he could get back on the list — albeit at the bottom, meaning another years-long wait — or he could continue to use it and eventually die.

Godfrey is back in the news this week after he told his story in front of a state committee that was considering a bill that would prevent hospitals from rejecting transplant patients because they use marijuana. Marijuana is newly legal for recreational use in Maine, and has been legal medicinally for years, including when Godfrey was removed from the list.

Maine Medical Center is the only hospital in the state with a transplant program, meaning people in Maine who want transplants have to either follow its rules or move to another state. Other conditions or activities that can get patients kicked off Maine Medical Center’s list include: morbid obesity, “uncontrolled psychiatric disorders,” “inadequate health care insurance,” the inability can’t travel to the clinic for follow-up visits, and the use of illegal drugs. What doesn’t get a patient kicked off the list? Smoking tobacco, though it is “strongly discouraged.”

The difference between tobacco and marijuana users, the policy says, is that marijuana increases the risk of a fungal infection called aspergillosis. This is not an unfounded fear; aspergillosis is a problem in transplant recipients, causing an estimated 9 to 17 percent of all post-transplant deaths that occur within the first year after the procedure. Marijuana that is not correctly sterilized does increase the risk of contracting aspergillosis. But tobacco has also been found to contain spores that cause the infection, and Maine Medical Center seemingly has no issue with that, nor does it prohibit raking leaves, handling compost, or breathing, which also increase the risk of contracting aspergillosis.

And marijuana might even be good for transplant recipients: a 2015 study in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology found that marijuana’s active ingredient may delay organ rejection.

Maine Medical Center is also not the only hospital to prohibit marijuana use in this way: Six years ago, a similar policy at Los Angeles’s Cedars-Sinai Hospital got a man named Norman Smith kicked off the liver transplant list because he took marijuana that a Cedars doctor prescribed him. The outcry led to a state law prohibiting hospitals from denying transplants to medical marijuana users.

That law came too late for Smith, who died three years before it was signed. Godfrey said the Maine bill, if passed, may also come too late for him, as he’ll still have to go back to the bottom of the wait list and time may run out before he gets back to the top of it.

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