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Case Study: Ethical Transplant?

Mickey Mantle, Baseball Hall of Fame center fielder for the New York Yankees, received a liver transplant in 1995 after a six-hour operation. It took only two days for the Baylor Medical Center's transplant team to find an organ donor for the 63-year old former baseball hero when his own liver was failing due to cirrhosis and hepatitis. Mantle was a recovering alcoholic who also had a small cancerous growth that was not believed to be spreading or life-threatening.

There is usually a waiting period of about 130 days for a liver transplant in the United States. A spokesperson for the United Network for Organ Sharing located in Richmond, Virginia, stated that there had been no favoritism in this case. She based her statement on the results of an audit conducted after the transplant took place. However, veteran transplant professionals were surprised at how quickly the transplant liver became available. Doctors estimated that due to Mantle's medical problems, he had only a 60 percent chance for a three-year survival. Ordinarily liver transplant patients have about a 78 percent three-year survival rate. There are only about 4,000 livers available each year with 40,000 people waiting for a transplant of this organ. According to the director of the Southwest Organ Bank, Mantle was moved ahead of others on the list due to a deteriorating medical condition. The surgery was uneventful and Mantle's liver and kidneys began functioning almost immediately. His recovery from surgery was fast.

There were mixed feelings about speeding up the process for an organ transplant for a famous person. However, Kenneth Micetich, an ethicist at Loyola University in Chicago, stated, "People should not be punished just because they are celebrities." The ethics of giving a scarce liver to a recovering alcoholic was debated in many circles. University of Chicago ethicist Mark Siegler said, "First, he had three potential causes for his liver failure. But he also represents one of the true American heroes. Many people remember how he overcame medical and physical obstacles to achieve what he did. The system should make allowances for real heroes."

Mickey Mantle died a few years later from cancer.

1.What ethical and/or bioethical issues might apply to the circumstances of this case study?
2.What are the values and rules influencing the ethical conflict?
3.What are the possible alternatives for the patient in the case?
4-If an ethics committee were to have reviewed this case, what value would it have provided and what considerations might it have considered in making the decision to proceed with the organ transplantation?

Solution Preview

1.) Ethical issues that are raised by this case study include notoriety influencing the haste in receiving an organ transplant rather than true medical urgency. From the case study above, Mickey Mantle was given a 60 percent chance of a three-year survival, while patients waiting for a liver transplant are normally given a 78 percent three-year survival rate. One could argue that this implies Mickey's medical circumstances were more dire than most, but it also does not take into account the possibility that there were other, even more critically ill (but far less famous) individuals on the waiting list who may have been passed over in favor of a celebrity. Another ethical issue that is raised is the circumstance under which Mickey Mantle came to this debilitating condition. Cirrhosis of the liver is often brought on by excessive drinking (Mickey was a recovering alcoholic) and hepatitis can be contracted as a result of drug use or sexual promiscuity. While it is not stated that Mickey was a habitual drug user nor engaged in risky sexual activity, the fact that he was an alcohol abuser raises the ethical question of whether or not one who abuses themselves should be given preferential treatment over one who is ...

Solution Summary

The solution discusses a case study that involves an ethical transplant.