Over the weekend a 20-year-old Park City man died from complications after getting a double lung transplant at the University of Pennsylvania. He was initially denied that surgery in Utah after evaluators learned that he had previously smoked marijuana.
20-year-old Riley Hancey was young and active. A skier and boater, last November Hancey got a bad case of pneumonia that weakened his respiratory system to the point where he needed a double lung transplant.
Hancey wound up getting the surgery at the University of Pennsylvania hospital but only after being turned down for a transplant at the University of Utah. The reason: he showed signs of smoking marijuana.
Representatives from the University of Utah said they don’t comment on individual patients but said they follow guidelines from the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation, which excludes patients with active alcohol, tobacco or drug use, until they have been addressed.
Joel Newman is the Assistant Director of Communications for the United Network of Organ Sharing, the national organization that connects organ donors to patients. He says the decision often comes down to whether a hospital has treated similar cases and if future behavior could cause an organ to be rejected.
"I think a lot of it comes down to the experience of that transplant program in treating patients with similar conditions – how that case progressed, has that person been able to do well once they’ve gotten a transplant," Newman says.
Newman says the increased use marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes, is becoming a more common discussion in transplant hospitals.
"I think attitudes are probably changing and probably the reaction you would get from transplant teams today is certainly different from two or three years ago," he says.
There are no national standards that determine who qualifies for an organ donation or how a hospital should make that choice.