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Dick Cheney's heart transplant: Did the former VP get special treatment?
The 71-year-old's surgery triggers a debate over the fairness of giving prized organs to elderly people
 
Dick Cheney waited 20 months for his heart transplant, but critics say his wealth and gold-plated health insurance may have given him an unfair advantage over other patients.
Dick Cheney waited 20 months for his heart transplant, but critics say his wealth and gold-plated health insurance may have given him an unfair advantage over other patients.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Former Vice President Dick Cheney underwent a heart transplant in Virginia on Saturday, and his doctors say he is "doing exceedingly well." Cheney, 71, has a long history of heart trouble — he had the first of his five heart attacks when he was just 37. In 2010, doctors implanted a battery-powered heart pump considered a "bridge to transplantation," and now that the transplant is complete, Cheney can rest easier: Transplant patients his age stand a 70 percent chance of living five years or more. But Cheney's case reopened a debate over whether young patients should receive scarce donor organs before someone Cheney's age. Did the former VP get special treatment?

Cheney may well have received preferential attention: "Cheney has an advantage over others" — but it's not his political prominence, says Art Caplan at MSNBC. Instead, it's his money and top-notch health insurance. The poor and uninsured simply don't have a "fair shot at getting a heart." Transplants "produce bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars," and only those who can pay get serious consideration. Cases like Cheney's should spur us to ask "tough ethical questions" about such an unfair system.
"Cheney too old for transplant? Bioethicist weighs in"

Cheney didn't get special treatment: The former VP didn't cut in line, says Peter Lawler at First Things. He waited 20 months for the right donor heart to come along, longer than most patients and almost "too long" for someone as ill as Cheney was. Now, he's "young and vital enough" to get another five to 10 years with "decent quality of life" out of this operation, which is something to celebrate, not criticize.
"Monday morning. Or Dick Cheney finally has a heart that works"

But was the procedure worth it? Cheney won't live forever, say David Brown and Lena H. Sun at The Washington Post. And because he's relatively old, he probably won't live as long as a younger patient would. That means that the additional lifespan the procedure "bought" Cheney costs the system more, approximately $167,000 for each year saved. Generally, $100,000 per year is the limit for what's considered "acceptable." It's just math: These procedures are more "cost-effective" on younger patients.
"Cheney doing 'exceedingly well' after heart transplant"

 

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