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I was sorry to hear that Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple over health issues.  But ever since his liver transplant in 2009, with reports he had “tumors,” I have had a nagging feeling that he received special treatment because he was Steve  Jobs in the same way that Mickey Mantle did because he was Mickey Mantle.  (For those who don’t remember, Mantle had hepatitis and liver cancer and received a transplant anyway—which should have been precluded based on the nature of his fast spreading metastatic illness.) I don’t know, of course, but I think at an appropriate time—this isn’t it—it will be important that we find out.

Trust is a delicate thing, and the public’s faith in the organ transplant triage system is especially fragile.  Ideally, it is utterly egalitarian, that is, not a respecter of persons but fairly and impartially manages the waiting line based on its formula of need, time spent waiting, tissue compatability, etc.  If we find that queue jumping is permitted for the rich and powerful, it could throw the entire system into substantial doubt.

And that raises another question: Since our society is growing increasingly utilitarian, wouldn’t it be consistent with current trends to give a true genius and innovator like Jobs special consideration over “normal people”—even if it means that the next person in line who should have received the transplant, say a shoe salesman, ends up dying when he might otherwise have lived?  After all, some now argue that we should distinguish between human “persons” and so-called “non-persons.”  Once we do that, why not then distinguish among persons?

To answer my own question: I say no, with exclamation points!  In organ transplant medicine, there must be no class privilege or special consideration based on talent, wealth, and influence.  But I worry that I might be a minority voice.

 Update: Art Caplan noted in a column at the time of his transplant that Jobs used his money to get on several organ waiting lists simultaneously. That loophole needs to be closed as regional organ centers are intended to service people who actually live in the region.  Jobs did not reside in Tennessee.

But my post was aimed at larger questions: Whether, had he not been Steve Jobs, he would have qualified for a transplant at all, and whether people of great value should be given priority because of their actual and potential contributions to society.

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