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Legal Daily News Feature

Illegal Immigrants Aren’t Just a Political Hot Button: They’re Human Beings By Rebecca E. Neely Red tape, contradictions and confusion are seemingly the government’s stock in trade at times, but this time, it may well have outdone itself.

12/27/11 According to the December 20th nytimes.com article, “For Illegal Immigrant, Line Is Drawn at Transplant”, illegal immigrant, called only ‘Angel’ so as to remain anonymous, needs a kidney transplant but the government won’t pay for it because of his immigration status. The government will, however, pay for a lifetime of dialysis. Huh? “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” – perhaps The Clash sums up the media blitz and national debate that’s surrounded the issue of illegal immigrants in recent months best. However, amid said blitz, the fact that ‘Angel’ is a human being somehow got lost in the shuffle. According to the article, Angel is a waiter in his early 30s, a husband and father of two, and extremely well liked at the Manhattan restaurant where he has worked for ten years; so well liked, in fact, that customers and fellow employees alike have been donating money to help him. Angel’s brother is a medical match, and could donate a kidney to him, and for two years, they’ve been trying to find a way to make it happen. Though Angel’s boss attempted to get him private insurance, he would not be eligible for coverage due to his ‘pre-existing’ condition or the dialysis that keeps him alive – for the first year. Doctors looked for a transplant center that would accept Angel. Though hospitals in the city get millions of taxpayer dollars to help in offsetting care for illegal immigrants and other uninsured patients, surgeons willing to waive their fees were overruled by administrators. At another hospital, Angel was told he could get a transplant when he was a legal and had $200,000.

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Angel could potentially get the transplant in Mexico – but, ironically, then he’d have to sneak back into the United States via the desert, and if he was unsuccessful, that would mean another host of problems, not the least of which would be being cut off from his family. Almost everyone with end-stage renal disease in the United States, despite their income, is covered under federal Medicare for dialysis and transplantation, save for illegal immigrants. But no matter a patient’s immigration status, hospitals can be reimbursed for emergency care by Medicaid, the federal and state insurance program for the needy. New York, California and North Carolina consider outpatient dialysis an emergency procedure; most other states do not. Studies reveal that regular dialysis is less costly, and carries with it fewer life-threatening complications versus waiting until toxin levels demand hospital treatment. Dr. Eric Manheimer, Bellevue’s medical director was quoted as saying: “As a physician, it puts you in a real ethical dilemma. The ultimate irony is it’s cheaper to put in a transplant than to dialyze someone for the rest of their life.” But not everyone shares Manheimer’s beliefs. Representative Dana T. Rohrabacher, Republican of California was quoted as saying: “They should not get any benefit from breaking the law, especially something as expensive as organ transplants or dialysis. If they’re dead, I don’t have an objection to their organs being used. If they’re alive, they shouldn’t be here no matter what.” Rohrabacher is of the mind that healthcare related expenses for illegal immigrants are bankrupting American health care. He has worked to make it a requirement that emergency rooms turn in stable patients for deportation unless they can prove citizenship or legal residence.

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Legal Daily News Feature

My blood runs cold upon reading his words. It’s frightening to think that this man is in politics, and is in a position to affect change, and that in general, this mindset has been allowed to proliferate – which, yes, eerily smacks of Hitler. Yes, there has to be laws, yes, there has to be order. But there also has to be compassion. Ruth Faden, the director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, was quoted as saying: “We tie ourselves up in knots. Because we’ve accepted as a country and in international human rights law that if someone shows up in extremis in your emergency room, the nurses and doctors and technicians are morally obligated, and legally obligated, to provide that life-saving care.”

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Thank you, Ruth Faden. Thank you, Dr. Eric Manheimer. I pray that you, and folks like you, continue to advocate on behalf of these human beings so desperately in need of medical care and that you keep on fighting the likes of Rohrabacher, so if God forbid, I ever need a kidney transplant, someone won’t have decided for me whether I’m eligible or not – based on the color of my hair, or my gender, or race, or some other quality that my government or a health insurance company has deemed unworthy. “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.” Mother Teresa

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Illegal Immigrants Aren't Just a Political Hot Button: They're Human Beings