No one can deny that the plight of Jesica Santillan, the sick
teenager who mistakenly received organs at Duke University from a donor with
a different blood type, is a sad one.
But we cannot ignore the tough public policy questions in
Jesica's case that the sob-story writers at The New York Times prefer to
-- When resources are scarce, as the supply of voluntarily
donated organs notoriously are, why shouldn't U.S. citizens get top
-- According to national figures, 16 patients die in the U.S.
each day while waiting for a potentially life-saving transplant operation.
How many American patients currently on the national organ waiting list were
denied access to healthy hearts and lungs as a result of Santillan's two
transplant surgeries? Who will tell their stories?
-- Finally, if Jesica recovers from the second heart-lung
transplant, will any federal immigration authority have the guts to enforce
the law and send her and her family back home to Mexico?
According to Times reporter Denise Grady, "Ms. Santillan's
family moved from Mexico to North Carolina three years ago in hopes that she
could be treated at Duke for restrictive cardiomyopathy, which caused an
enlarged, weakened heart and damaged lungs."
But as other media outlets have more accurately and honestly
detailed, Santillan's family didn't just "move" here. They came here
illegally by paying a coyote $5,000 to smuggle Santillan and her mother
across the border for the express purpose of obtaining medical care and
circumventing long wait times in Mexico.
A North Carolina businessman, Mack Mahoney, founded a private
charity to raise funds for Santillan's transplants. But the charity cannot
replace the organs that were used in Santillan's surgeries. Those hearts and
lungs are not fungible.
In all likelihood, taxpayers will be on the hook for Santillan's
post-operative care one way or another. Transplant patients must take
immunosuppressant medications for the life of the transplanted organs, for
example. Typical costs of post-transplant drugs may be as much as $2,500 per
month in the first year alone. And as we all know, Santillan's botched
operation was far from typical. Her illegal immigrant parents will probably
sue Duke University, adding further to this case's surgery-related costs.
The United Network for Organ Sharing, the non-profit group that
coordinates the nation's transplant system, has established a policy that no
more than 5 percent of the organs transplanted at any hospital are allowed
to go to illegal immigrants or foreign nationals. But when medical
facilities have tried to deny organ transplants to illegal aliens, they have
been met with a political and media uproar. Last summer, for example, the
Cleveland Clinic was pressured by a local Hispanic city councilman into
admitting an illegal immigrant from Guatemala for a liver transplant after
initially turning her away.
The costs of illegal alien health care are crippling hospitals
across the country. In North Carolina, where Santillan's family has settled,
a Medicaid emergency services program averages 221 new cases every month
involving immigrants, many of them illegal, at a cost of about $32 million.
As The Washington Times reported recently, dozens of hospitals in the 28
counties along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and
California have either closed their doors or face bankruptcy because of
losses caused by uncompensated care given to illegal immigrants.
Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego was forced to close after
losing more than $5 million a year in unreimbursed medical care, much of it
for illegal immigrants, Times reporter Jerry Seper noted. The Southeast
Medical Center in Douglas, Ariz., is on the verge of bankruptcy because of
uncompensated care to undocumented aliens; the Cochise County, Ariz., Health
Department spends as much as 30 percent of its annual $9 million budget on
undocumented aliens; and the University Medical Center in Tucson will spend
up to $10 million this year providing uncompensated alien health care.
New York medical providers have performed dozens of
organ-transplant operations -- and even sex-change operations -- to illegal
aliens. The costs of such "charity" care typically are shifted to insured
patients, resulting in higher health insurance premiums.
In a world of scarce resources, compassion must have limits. We
cannot afford to be a medical welcome mat to the world.