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Troubling History Emerges About Historic Organ Recipient

'Washington Post' reports on his criminal past and the medical ethics at play
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 13, 2022 1:04 PM CST
Troubling History Emerges About Historic Organ Recipient
In this photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Bartley Griffith takes a selfie with patient David Bennett Sr. in Baltimore.   (Dr. Bartley Griffith/University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP)

(Newser) – Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center made big headlines this week with the first-ever transplant of a genetically modified pig heart into a human. But all that attention has brought to a light a troubling aspect of the patient's past: He once nearly killed a man by stabbing him seven times in a bar, reports the Washington Post. David Bennett Sr., 57, served about five years in prison for the 1988 stabbing of 22-year-old Edward Shumaker. The story explores the ethics surrounding the selection of organ recipients, as summed up by Shumaker's sister, Leslie Shumaker Downey: "I wish, in my opinion, it had gone to a deserving recipient.”

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Edward Shumaker survived the attack but was left paralyzed and died of stroke in 2005 at age 40. Bennett is "being given another shot at life,” says Downey. “But my brother Ed wasn’t given a shot at life. Ed was given a death sentence.” However, the Post notes that the general view of medical ethicists is that a person's criminal background should have no bearing on worthiness as a recipient. “The key principle in medicine is to treat anyone who is sick, regardless of who they are,” says Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at New York University.

The medical center in Baltimore where the procedure took place voiced a similar sentiment, though it is not saying whether it knew of Bennett's past. “This patient came to us in dire need, and a decision was made about his transplant eligibility based solely on his medical records," it says in a statement. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal explores a better ramification of the surgery—the possibility that future transplants of this nature could dramatically shorten the waiting time for donor recipients. “We have crossed the Rubicon,” says Dr. Robert Montgomery of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute. “We are trying to make sense of it and where to go next.” (Read more organ transplants stories.)

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