A medical marijuana patient in Los Angeles with inoperable liver cancer has been removed from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s transplant list after testing positive for marijuana.
Sixty-three-year-old medical marijuana patient Norman B. Smith was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in 2009 and sought treatment from the internationally known Cedars-Sinai in L.A. Smith’s oncologist at the medical center, Dr. Steven Miles, approved of his medical marijuana use as a means to deal with the effects of chemotherapy and pain from an unrelated back surgery.
Norman Smith: “Since I am the only successful patient in the clinical trial, to take away something that’s been part of a successful regimen does not make any sense”
In September 2010, Smith became eligible for a liver transplant, but after testing positive for marijuana in February he was removed from the transplant list. Smith’s cancer was in remission until just recently, but now he is scheduled to undergo radiation treatments in a few days.
Medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) issued a latter on Thursday urging the Cedars-Sinai Transplant Department to promptly re-list Smith for a liver transplant. The letter also urges Cedars-Sinai to change its transplant eligibility policy.
“Denying necessary transplants to medical marijuana patients is the worse kind of discrimination,” said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who wrote the letter to Cedars-Sinai. “Cedars-Sinai would not be breaking any laws, federal or otherwise, by granting Norman Smith a liver transplant, and it’s certainly the ethical thing to do.”
Smith is not the only medical marijuana patient in the United States being denied a transplant. At least one other Cedars-Sinai patient reported to ASA in 2008 that they had been kicked off the transplant list because of their legal medical marijuana use.
Over the past four years, ASA has received numerous reports of patients being purged from transplant lists across California, as well as in other medical marijuana states like Hawaii, Oregon and Washington.
In 2008, Seattle resident and medical marijuana patient Timothy Garon died after being denied a liver transplant by the University of Washington Medical Center. A year later, in 2009 Big Island resident and medical marijuana patient Kimberley Reyes died at Hilo Hospital after being denied a liver transplant.
Dr. Steven D. Colquhoun, director of Cedars-Sinai’s Liver Transplant Program, compared Smith’s legal medical marijuana use to “substance abuse”
Cedars-Sinai is demanding that Smith not only abstain from marijuana use for at least six months, forcing him to undergo random toxicology tests, but, incredibly, he is also required to participate in weekly “substance abuse” counseling, of all things, over the same time period.
Although Smith was within two months of receiving a liver before he was de-listed, he will now be put at the bottom of the list even if he satisfies the policy requirements.
“ASA seeks to change this harmful and uncompassionate policy not only for Smith’s benefit, but also for the numerous other medical marijuana patients who are being made to suffer unnecessarily as a result of political ideology,” Elford said.
Between January 2010 and October 2011, Smith took part in a rare clinical trial to combat his liver cancer. The trial, which involved only 60 people worldwide, included weekly infusions and daily pills.
Smith also smoked medical marijuana during this time, but stopped in August 2011 to try to adhere to the transplant eligibility requirements. Smith was the only patient in the entire 93-week trial who had a successful remission, earning him the moniker of “Miracle Man.”
Because of the cancer’s return, Smith may not have six months to live. However, instead of re-listing him for a transplant, Cedars-Sinai is scheduling him for radiation treatment.
“Since I am the only successful patient in the clinical trial, to say away something that’s been part of a successful regimen does not make any sense,” Smith said. “My goal is to leave the world a better place than I found it, regardless of what the authorities say regarding my usage of medical marijuana.”
“Norman Smith’s life hangs in the balance between his desperate need for a libber and an anti-marijuana sentiment that informs a misguided and life-threatening transplant policy,” Elford said.
Smith not only has the support of his oncologist and other Cedars-Sinai staff, but also his psychologist, who wrote a strong letter of recommendation that Smith be approved for a liver transplant.
Nevertheless, Dr. Steven D. Colquhoun, the director of Cedars-Sinai’s Liver Transplant Program, compared Smith’s legal medical marijuana use to “substance abuse.” In a letter sent to Smith in May, Dr. Colquhoun indicated that the liver transplant center “must consider issues of substance abuse seriously since it does often play a role in the evolution of diseases that may require transplantation, and may adversely impact a new organ after a transplant.”
Despite Dr. Colquhoun’s assertions and Cedars-Sinai’s restrictive policy, an independent study has shown that marijuana use has no adverse impact on the survival rate of transplant recipients.
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