In the past, those with alcoholic liver disease and were still drinking heavily would not be considered suitable candidates for a liver transplant. The fact that they were still drinking put them at particularly high risk of complications, as well as the fact that further alcohol abuse would just damage the new liver. The issue of providing heavy drinkers with liver transplants is also controversial because of the argument that such expensive treatments should not be available to treat illness caused by lifestyle choices. At the moment, there is a serious shortage of organs available for transplant in the UK, so this is further fuelling the debate of providing this treatment for practicing alcoholics. People donate their organs while alive out of compassion to help others, so this gift needs to be used wisely.
Do Active Alcoholics Deserve Liver Transplants?
The idea that alcoholics are just immoral, weak-willed people was debunked early in the last century, but this idea persists. Nobody chooses to become an alcoholic, and the person is not engaging in this behaviour because of laziness or badness. An alcohol addiction change the way the brain works, making it difficult for individuals to break free of the behaviour. Therefore, to say that active alcoholics do not deserve liver transplants is akin to saying that sick people do not deserve liver transplants. A representative from the NHS’s Blood and Transplant Service (NHSBT) has defended this new scheme by saying, “we transplant humans, not angels.”
Those responsible for the NHSBT scheme understand how controversial this topic is, and they understand that the public trust will need to be won. This is why they are starting the project with a trial of 20 patients. It is expected that the recruitment process would take about two years to make sure that the most suitable candidates are found. The NHSBT is committed to making sure that this precious resource is used as responsibly as possible.
Giving liver transplants to those who have experienced liver failure due to alcoholism is not a new idea. It has been done in the past, but in order to be considered a suitable candidate the individual will need to abstain from alcohol before any procedure. They would also be tested closely and would only be offered a transplant if there was a greater than fifty per cent chance of being alive as well as experiencing a good quality of life five years following the procedure.
George Best is an example of somebody who received a liver transplant despite the fact that he was an alcoholic. The fact that he drank again following the procedure meant that he continued to put his life at risk. He was dead within two years of the transplant, and there were many critics who said this precious organ should not have been given to him but to somebody more suitable. It is believed that some people even changed their mind about donating a liver after death because of this controversy.
Should Heavy Drinkers be Given Liver Transplants?
Heavy drinkers may be a higher risk when it comes to liver transplants, but this study by NHSBT will be setting out to show that there are individuals in this group who can make the most of this gift of life. The number of alcoholics dying from liver disease is on the rise, so more needs to be done to help this group. Many individuals will be more willing to embrace a sober life if they feel they can have a future. A liver transplant can give them this future.