The progressive web is abuzz with jokes about former Vice President Dick Cheney’s heart transplant surgery on Saturday. Jezebel referred to the old heart as a “blackened lump of coal” and speculated that maybe his new heart will enable him to feel empathy. A satirical article in the Borowitz Report proclaims, “Cheney Receives Heart Transplant; Bush Still On Waiting List For Brain.”
Joking aside, it is a serious subject. Cheney has been suffering from numerous heart problems for years – he’s had five heart attacks since age 37, with the most recent occurring in 2010, when he had to have a Left Ventricular Assist Device installed to help keep his damaged heart beating. He’s had a pacemaker since 2001 to help combat irregular heart rhythms.
Like 3,100 other Americans, Cheney did have a lengthy wait for a donor – he’s been hanging on for almost two years in the hopes of getting a new heart. The transplant isn’t without controversy: at age 71, he’s over the age generally recommended for such a risky surgery.
The cutoff given by many doctors and the Mayo Clinic is 55. While it’s never easy to deny a live-saving transplant to someone who needs it, there is a shortage of healthy donor organs available, and younger patients are more likely to survive the surgery and benefit from the new organs long-term.
Studies have show that heart transplant recipients over age 65 have more severe functional limitations after the surgery. They have difficulty returning to their normal lives. After age 65, it becomes less likely that the recipient will survive the next five years.
On the other hand, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute dismisses the idea that there should be an age cutoff for heart transplants, even while acknowledging the increased likelihood of complications. Fox News is, predictably, challenging all criticism that Cheney’s age or condition might make him a poor candidate for the procedure.
Personally, I find it difficult to judge whether or not someone “should” receive a desperately-needed transplant. Did Cheney’s wealth and influence allow him an opportunity other 70-year-olds with heart failure might not have? Undoubtedly. But is it appropriate to say that someone with an obvious need for a transplant should not have received one, just because I dislike him on a personal and political level?
I don’t think it is. And I think it’s important to remember that, even though Cheney’s foreign policy positions helped get us into a war and have been used to justify torture, he’s also a vocal advocate for marriage equality. I don’t think jokes about the transplant suggesting he’s the embodiment of evil are accurate.
But I’m interested in your opinions, too: what does the Care2 community make of the news that Dick Cheney has had a “change of heart?”
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