Medical Marijuana User Denied Organ Transplant

Jonathan Simchen is latest example of user turned down for organ transplants.

ByABC News
May 20, 2008, 12:06 PM

May 20, 2008 — -- When Jonathan Simchen was diagnosed with kidney failure last summer, he did just what the doctor ordered: He applied for a kidney transplant and took his prescribed medicine -- medical marijuana.

The marijuana was meant to control his nausea.

Simchen, a 33-year-old diabetic who lives near Seattle, soon found out there was a Catch-22 rolled up in his legalized joints. He was turned down by two organ transplant programs because he uses medical marijuana.

"About two or three months after I got on dialysis, I went to Virginia Mason Hospital and they did a rigorous set of tests of my lungs, brain, circulatory system, a psychological evaluation," Simchen told

"[They] took me off the list because they're afraid of me being a future drug user," said Simchen, who admits that he has used cocaine. But that was in the past and he even quit using medical marijuana at the hospital's request.

When Simchen went to the University of Washington Medical Center, he says he was also turned down.

"They made it clear that if you had medical marijuana, they wouldn't treat me. I just lost hope and got totally frustrated."

Alisha Mark, a spokeswoman for Virginia Mason, would not discuss details of Simchen's case because of medical privacy regulations, but said that "any patient who smokes any product -- tobacco, cloves, medical marijuana -- would be precluded from receiving a transplant here."

The hospital, which performs 90 to 100 transplants a year, is concerned about medical safety in the evaluation of whether a patient is a suitable candidate for organ transfer, explained Mark.

"So few people are denied access to the waiting list. We're not here to prevent them from getting on the list," she said.

A spokeswoman for the University of Washington Medical Center also declined to discuss specifics of Simchen's case, but said that medical marijuana use is only one of multiple factors, including behavioral concerns such as a history of substance abuse or dependency, examined by their transplant committee.