The Cleveland Clinic, a world-renowned surgery center and provider of modern medical miracles, announced Friday that it will require both transplant donors and recipients to have received a Covid-19 vaccination.
Michael Ganim is a 52-year-old man from Cleveland dying from kidney failure. He has been a Cleveland Clinic patient for years and on the organ donor transplant list since last October. Ganim’s polycystic kidney disease almost killed him in March 2020, and he and his family have ridden the emotional rollercoaster waiting for test results and donor matches ever since, all the while praying that a suitable kidney would be found in time.
On June 23, 2021, those prayers were answered. Sue George responded to a Ganim family social media post pleading for help. Testing ensued, and by early August the clinic’s transplant team confirmed George’s kidney was a viable match. On October 4, the Ganims and Georges met with doctors for a routine pre-op meeting and the clinic scheduled the transplant surgery for October 13.
But on Friday, October 8, after a year of looking for a matching donor and just five days before the life-saving transplant, the surgery was scuttled by Cleveland Clinic administrative policymakers and their new “safety protocol.”
Ganim has received a Covid-19 injection, but it turns out George hasn’t. The transplant team has known this for months. As George told ABC’s News 5, “It was never an issue, and not one doctor out of those doctors we’ve met with mentioned that it was an issue except for the pulmonary doctor who just tried to persuade me to get the shot and that was about a month ago.”
According to the Ganims, the clinic’s transplant team has been sympathetic and even apologetic, but the doctors’ hands are tied by clinic rules.
Denial of Care Makes for Dangerous Territory
Unfortunately, Ganim’s dire situation offers a dim prognosis of America’s future health care. The Cleveland Clinic is a leading medical center with a global reach and world-class reputation. University Hospitals of Cleveland, another large Ohio hospital system, has just announced a similar protocol. UCHealth in Denver, Colorado, is requiring transplant recipients have the Covid vaccine too, suggesting that similar requirements may soon be common.
There is a severe organ shortage and the clinic’s new policy will only make it worse. To be sure, organ donor rolls are a complicated business. Doctors must make gut-wrenching life-and-death decisions every day, and matching viable organ donors with suited recipients is an unenviable kind of medical triage. Hospital transplant policies already impose post-operation conditions on organ recipients in a well-intended effort to ensure that the limited number of healthy organs don’t go to patients who have unhealthy or excessively risky lifestyles.
The Cleveland Clinic appears prepared to condemn some of their patients to death over an experimental vaccine with a short track record. Its decision to forge ahead despite organ shortages smells of rank political kowtowing rather than care and treatment in their patients’ best interests. The new policy contravenes recent guidance from the American Medical Association advising doctors that “A patient’s vaccination status in and of itself is not sufficient reason, ethically, to turn that individual away.”
If the hospital’s chief concern is preventing the spread of Covid-19, it has mistakenly reached for a hacksaw instead of a scalpel. The global rise in “breakthrough” cases of the virus among the vaccinated indicate that vaccination alone does not fully prevent viral spread.
Despite high vaccination rates among doctors and staff, hospitals have retained virtually all of their counter-Covid safety protocols, suggesting they acknowledge that vaccines alone are inadequate for restraining Covid. These procedures, along with testing for the virus and patient antibodies, would seem a better, more sensible solution if the primary objective here is patient health.
Clinic Can’t Defend This Ethically or Medically
The Cleveland Clinic cannot argue that its new ultimatum will protect Ganim from harm. Without a new kidney, Ganim faces a grim future and perhaps even death. Also, again, Ganim is already vaccinated.
Nor can the hospital argue that the new vaccine requirement for donors will protect surgeons and medical staff from people who have made different COVID shot decisions. If this were the impetus for the mandate, then surgeries could only be performed on the vaccinated and only the vaccinated could be admitted, but neither is currently the case.
The clinic can only assert that it hopes to protect the unvaccinated George against contracting Covid-19 by insisting — at the possible cost of someone else’s life — that she now be vaccinated against her own moral and medical judgments. Surely George and other unvaccinated organ donors could sign medical waivers and accept the risk and responsibility for proceeding with their donations without being vaccinated. Hospitals already advise organ donors of innumerable short- and long-term health risks associated with their heroic decision, and donors already willingly agree to take them.
Crisis of Doctors’ Credibility
A significant side effect of the Cleveland Clinic’s mandate will be a credibility crisis in American medicine. Such policies are so distasteful to patients and their families that they can only breed distrust and contempt. As other families lose loved ones to misbegotten vaccine mandates, the public will begin to question the most routine medical advice and wonder whose interests it really serves.
Do medical professionals not realize the faith and trust that their patients place in their benevolence and wisdom? Or do they understand exactly what they are doing, putting their political priorities before their patients, in violation of their oaths?
Either way, the Cleveland Clinic has shown a reckless disregard for the life of at least one of its transplant patients. Should the tragic facts of Ganim’s case ever be presented to a jury of his peers, perhaps they will tell us whether the hospital’s heartless manipulation is rooted in political self-interest, blind stupidity, or malevolent hubris—an uncomfortable choice that the country should never have to make.