Picketers protest access to organ transplant procedures in Chicago on August 4, 2013. (Courtesy of MDCnonamecollective)
A group of about forty picketers, including fourteen people who were on their sixth day of a hunger strike, set up camp outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Sunday to demand access to organ transplant procedures for undocumented immigrants.
“We’re asking for help,” Blanca Gomez, 23, who needs a kidney transplant, told the Chicago Sun Times. “I go to dialysis three times a week. I’m not going off the hunger strike until I get on the transplant list.”
Gomez told the Sun Times she has lost four pounds and was surviving on water and Gatorade.
“Hospitals routinely deny life-saving patient care based on immigration status and inability to pay: in a profit-driven medical system, only certain lives are deemed to be worth saving,” the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign declared in a written statement, adding that the hunger strikers include patients and loved ones who “demand that hospitals place people on transplant lists based on need and not on immigration or insurance status.”
The group said fourteen undocumented Mexican immigrants who live in the Chicago area need either a liver or kidney transplant, but they can’t afford one because they are denied federal health care because they’re not citizens.
“On the one hand, the intent of the national transplant registry is to base transplants on who needs them most, but there are indeed a whole group of people who find themselves shut out,” Dr. David Asnell, chief medical officer at Rush University Medical Center, told the Sun Times. “And these are people who are uninsurable, and it creates an ethical dilemma of doing the right thing against the extreme cost of doing a transplant.”
Asnell also points out that many organs come from uninsured people, but other uninsured individuals rarely receive organ transplants.
“These are people who contribute to the community. The answer can’t be no access, but it’s going to require calling together all the transplant centers in the region, as well as politicians and members of the community to find an equitable solution,” Ansell said. “The other thing to note is that 20 percent of organs come from uninsured people, but around 1 percent of organs go to uninsured people who need them. These people donate the organs, but mostly don’t get access to them.”
Many elected officials support this system, including Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California. “They should not get any benefit from breaking the law, especially something as expensive as organ transplants or dialysis,” said Rohrabacher when asked about the reality that many undocumented immigrants’ organs are used in transplants. “If they’re dead, I don’t have an objection to their organs being used. If they’re alive, they shouldn’t be here no matter what.”
The hunger strikers see this system as immoral and unjust.
“If you’re not a citizen, you could still donate,” Osbeidy Rivera said to NBC Chicago, “but when it comes to people who don’t have documents, they don’t want to help them. It’s sad.”
Observers of the protest tweeted updates under the hashtag #LVhungerstrike and reported that hunger strikers and supporters plan to enter Northwestern Hospital this morning to deliver a letter. The group also encouraged supporters to call Northwestern and leave a voice mail for CEO Dean Harrison to ask him to meet with hunger strikers on Monday.
Protesters have been trying to meet with hospital representatives, but have thus far been rejected.
“The response of the hospital was very cruel and insulting,” stated Father Jose Landaverde, one of the hunger strikers. “I was told that if we try to leave a letter for the hospital CEO, they will just throw it in the garbage. By denying care, and even refusing to speak with undocumented patients, the administration are responsible for the death of many people in our community” added Landaverde.
“I am becoming very weak, and the aggressive attitude of Northwestern Memorial Hospital administration was shocking,” said Gomez. “But our determination is stronger than ever to continue the hunger strike,” she added.
Maria Isabel Mariano, a patient in need of a liver transplant, has many of her family members on hunger strike on her behalf. She stated, “I am not asking for special treatment. I only want a fair chance to fight for my life.”
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