Transplant tragedy kills Bush's malpractice plan

Wednesday, March 5, 2003 at 1:00am

When 17-year-old Jesica Santillan died of complications from transplant surgery, many called it the tragic end to a tragic story.

No way. Her death was just the beginning of a controversial debate over what went wrong, and why. The transplant that was meant to save her life killed her instead. Even before her death, people were asking: As an illegal alien, why did she deserve a transplant at all? And once the first operation failed, did she deserve a second?

As anyone with personal experience knows, there are no easy answers. Too many people need new organs; too few donors are available, and someone has to make the Solomonesque decision of who gets a new shot at life based on such criteria as blood type, age, medical condition, body size and geography. I'm glad it's not my job. But here's how I'd decide in this case.

On the first question: Of course, Jesica deserved a heart and lung transplant. From infancy she had suffered a fatal heart disorder; otherwise, she was in good health. She had waited three years for a donor and was just a short flight from Boston, where the heart and lungs of a young donor suddenly became available. The fact that she was an illegal alien

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