Oregon Health & Science University was unreasonable to reject an undocumented immigrant

In Opinion
(Dalia Quiroz / Daily Titan)

Silvia Lesama-Santos has lived in Portland, Oregon for at least three decades. But to her surprise, the 46-year-old mother of four was rejected when she attempted to receive a lifesaving liver transplant at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) due to her immigrant status, according to an article from the Washington Post.

Denying undocumented individuals donor transplants when their lives are on the line reveals a troubling lack of tolerance and compassion. A mixture of poor reasoning and polarized perspectives leads people to discriminate against a person fighting for their chance at life.

Some might argue that approving transplants for undocumented immigrants will take away resources from citizens. However, at least 3 percent of organ transplants in the U.S. come from noncitizens, according to the Organ Procurement Transplantation Network. Only about 1 percent of undocumented immigrants are organ transplant recipients, according to the American Medical Association.

Those against illegal immigration would also argue that America is not financially responsible for an immigrant’s medical expenses. However, this undocumented individual had health insurance through her husband’s employer.

People have become blinded by preconceived notions; this hospital managed to take its beliefs to a ridiculously new low. There wasn’t a valid reason to deny Lesama-Santos the opportunity to receive a transplant. It boiled down to beliefs, and in this case, a negative view toward undocumented immigrants blinded a hospital from doing the one thing it was meant to do — help people in need.

Considering the time it takes to get through a transplant procedure, refusing someone a spot on the waiting list because of their immigrant status is like a death sentence. The waiting period for a liver transplant can take up to a few years before a suitable donor organ becomes available.

The American Liver Foundation policy states that a person’s eligibility for a liver transplant depends on the person’s overall physical and mental health as well as their plan to pay for transplant-related medical expenses. The policy never states that the individual needs to be an American citizen to be approved. However, the hospital thought otherwise.

“OHSU requires proof of lawful presence for transplant services,” the hospital wrote in a letter to her.

The hospital’s letter goes directly against the Hippocratic Oath, a physician’s pledge to treat all patients to the best of their ability.

This is the same oath that allows felons in prison to be treated by physicians, yet a woman with health insurance is rejected on the basis of undocumentation. Somehow, people can reasonably understand and accept the humanization of criminals but contempt for the undocumented immigrants can’t be pushed aside the same way.

Organ transplant services were created to extend the lives of the sick. OHSU and other organ services have a moral responsibility to save as many lives as possible, regardless of where the patients were born.

It is unfortunate that it took a massive public backlash for OHSU to change its policy of denying transplant services without legal proof of residency. Shortly after the news publicized the hospital’s terrible actions, a statement was sent out cancel the policy.

“Upon learning of the policy, OHSU leaders acted immediately and terminated the policy. We deeply regret the pain this has caused the family. OHSU is committed to serving our entire community — all are welcome at OHSU, and this policy does not reflect our values,” the statement read.

This situation has sparked a conversation that could help improve undocumented individuals moving forward. OHSU changed its policy and will now aid those in need, even without proof of documentation. While the situation could have been avoided, at least they’ve recognized the error in denying Lesama-Santos proper care. This change can inspire other organizations to see undocumented individuals as they are, human beings that deserve a chance at life.

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3 commentsOn Oregon Health & Science University was unreasonable to reject an undocumented immigrant

  • Who did receive this liver and is that person a citizen?
    Would that person have been denied a transplant if Silvia Lesama-Santos received this liver? Not everyone who needs a liver will receive one. According to the New York Post article, “Nearly 16,000 people are awaiting a liver. About 1,500 people die waiting every year.”

    So I would assume, inorder for her to receive this liver, another person on the transplant waiting list may die before another donor is found. Because there isn’t enough donors for each person seeking a liver, we do have “discriminate against a person fighting for their chance at life”.

    Also, you stated “at least 3 percent of organ transplants in the U.S. come from noncitizens”. A noncitizen is not necessarily an illegal alien (the legal term for someone in the country without legal permission). A person can be a legal resident without being a citizen.

  • Wording in the article needs correcting. They are illegal aliens. They are violating US immigration laws.

  • Can I just say I love the illustrations on these opinion pieces! They are amazing! Great work.

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