Article first published as Is Autism a Death Sentence? on Technorati.
I don't envy doctors. They take a lot of grief from patients who are not happy about aches and pains, get drilled on all the latest advertised drugs that anyone with a television seems to think they need, and once in a while they are placed in an untenable position: They have to decide who gets to live, and who doesn't.
Recently, it was reported by ABC News and other news outlets that Paul Corby was denied the waiting-list for a heart transplant, because he has autism. He has autism, which is defined medically as a psychiatric condition, and because of the potential issues with drugs necessary, at the age of 23 he was denied the chance to wait for a heart. Why did he need one? Because his left ventricle didn't close when he was born, and his heart doesn't pump enough blood. It's a dangerous, life-threatening condition that would require a transplant. And yet, he can't have one.
I don't know of any other reasons why he was denied, what factors were weighed, or whether or not it was an attack on his autism as opposed to legitimate reasons, so I can't comment on the decision itself. But It does beg the question: should autism restrict anyone medically? Should someone with autism be excluded from blood transfusions, organ transplants, or revolutionary new procedures? We all know that organs are rare, and there are long waiting lists for organ transplants. Should someone without autism be considered in front of someone with autism?
It's so easy to see someone with autism or another physical disorder and see only that disorder. You don't see that children with autism can also be children with the flu, children with chicken pox, children with measles (yes, if you don't get them vaccinated), and children with a cold. Our kids get sick, and often without us knowing right away because they can't explain how they feel. It is frustrating for parents enough when you know they will be out of school for a couple days. I can only imagine what Paul's poor mother is feeling, knowing her son's life isn't worth the same as others on the waiting list, just because her son has autism.
The media has been reporting on this story for days, and I'm sure they will talk to every expert out there, get plenty of public opinions on the matter, and even find some celebrity to make a comment on the situation, on the outside. My heart goes out to the doctor that made the decision: that unpopular, inflammatory decision that could be very damaging to a career, should anyone find out the doctor's name. It's a responsibility that I would never be able to manage, personally. I'm really glad that I'm not a doctor.