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Second Medical Marijuana Patient Denied Transplant at LA Hospital

Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles has for the second time in the past year denied a life-saving organ transplant to a patient because of her medical marijuana use, Americans for Safe Access reported this week. The hospital removed qualified medical marijuana patient Toni Trujillo from its kidney transplant list earlier this year, citing her medical marijuana use.

Trujillo has had kidney problems most of her life and has been on dialysis for the past five years, since an earlier transplanted kidney began failing. She came to California from Pennsylvania two years ago to take advantage of specialized treatment offered at Cedars-Sinai. She explained that to her physician at Cedars that she used medical marijuana as an appetite stimulant to increase her protein levels -- a critical need for dialysis patients -- and got no negative feedback.

She continued to use medical marijuana while awaiting her transplant. Then, in April, after being on a waiting list for six years, Trujillo was told over the phone that she had been de-listed because her medical marijuana use was considered "substance abuse." She was never sent a formal de-listing letter, confirming her status.

"Denying necessary transplants to medical marijuana patients is the worst kind of discrimination," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who authored a letter to Cedars-Sinai urging the hospital to reconsider. "Cedars-Sinai would not be breaking any laws, federal or otherwise, by granting Toni Trujillo a kidney transplant, and it's certainly the ethical thing to do."

Trujillo's plight echoes that of Norman Smith, a medical marijuana patient who was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in 2009. Smith's oncologist at Cedars-Sinai, Dr. Steven Miles, approved of his medical marijuana use as a means to deal with the effects of chemotherapy, but Smith was removed from the liver transplant list in 2011 because of medical marijuana, just two months before he would have been eligible. Last week, Smith was told he had 90 days to live. ASA also sent a letter on Smith's behalf.

Cedars-Sinai told both Trujillo and Smith they must not only test negative for marijuana for six months to re-qualify for the wait list, but also take drug abuse counseling for the same period. Both are complying with the requirements and have chosen to forgo using medical marijuana, though it has a significant therapeutic benefit for them. Smith could especially benefit as he is currently undergoing chemotherapy for his cancer, and his appetite is severely diminished. It appears Trujillo and Smith may eventually be put back on the list, but at the bottom. Trujillo recently contracted peritonitis, a bacterial infection, as a result of her dialysis.

"I don't know why Cedars would deny me a transplant simply because I use a legal medication that works for me," said Trujillo. "I hope they listen to reason and change their misguided policy, if not for me then at least for the others who will certainly follow."

Los Angeles, CA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Greg Gerba's picture

thats just horrible

what kind of sick son of a bitch does that denying people life saving medical attention because of marijuana its really pisses me off to see and hear this and the whole they have to go 6 months without and drug counsuling thats just insulting and humilating they need to just make it legal

Not the only one

Often times government insurance such as Medicare and Medicaid is the only insurance that one can get for ESFrom my understanding not all hospitals accept medicare/medicaid and in order to accept medicare/medicaid the hospital must follow the government's rules. Therefore, the decision makers at the hospital may be afraid of losing their medicare/medicaid status. 

I have a relative with ESD or End Stage Renal disease, which is kidney failure. This relative was receiving kidney dialysis for ESD and also has diabetes. Due to the effects of dialysis, my relative was unable to keep food down and despite taking drugs prescribed for nasea my relative was told that the weight loss was now becoming life threatening. Desperate, my relative tried marijuana for the first time ever because this person believed it might help keep food down and eat. The difference was so startling, the doctors suspected and asked if marijuana was being used. Just like the above article, my relative was taken off the list. My relative happens to be in a non medical marijuana state and after hearing the news about being removed from the kidney transplant list told me, "Damn if I do, Damn if I don't. I've been handed a death sentence."

Has society ever considered the value of human life? Dialysis is performed every couple of days and costs thousands of dollars per treatment. With a new kidney, a person could get "normal" health insurance, go back to work and be a productive member of society that pays taxes. 


Where is the ACLU? This is such a violation of rights! She was doing it legally to help her health. Why can Dick Cheney get a heart so easily. I bet if  rich/famous person was doing the same thing, they would get the transplant. I hate our society sometimes. Healthy people are so lucky. They have no idea of how easy their lives are.  I have some health issues. Still manage to work but I have to come home and rest. No outside life. Plus, I am in pain a lot and this since I was 23 years old through no fault of my own. I bet medical mar. would help me feel better but I would never dare to use it because it is illegal in my state.  I am a school librarian, a job I love. But 23 years of working ill is starting to take a toll on me. I pray that one day, medical Marijuana will be legal everywhere and not ruin a person's chances of having life-saving surgery.



I think medical marijuana patients should band together and march in and remove themselves from all the 'donor' lists until Cedar (who's doctors write referrals for marijuana to many of their own patients who visit the establishment) pull's their over inflated sense of 'self' out of their posteriors.. 

Seriously.. I hate to make it a hostage situation, but that's what they are elevating it to.....If I am not good enough to receive, I am certainly not good enough to donate.

Lesson Learned

I'm in kidney failure and have went through similar stuff trying to get on transplant lists. The difference being, I was using marijuana recreationally when I was around 18. The Lesson I've learned is to never tell anyone anything about what you do in your personal life or what you use. They will hold it against you and have you jumping through hoops for months. They made me test negative for months and go to "drug abuse counseling" before they'd consider me at the Mayo clinic. While I wasn't prescribed marijuana, and was doing it purely for the fun & relaxation (which could still be considered medicinal if it relieves stress, if you think about it) of it, the stigma is the same. If you smoke marijuana you're considered a drug abuser and not deemed worthy of life.

My advice to anyone going through anything similar is keep your business to yourself. Much like with police officers, one can be lulled into a false sense of safety and get to thinking that your doctor always has your best interests in mind and it's okay to talk freely with them -- it's not. NEVER tell any of your physicians anything to do with "drugs", unless the physician you're seeing is helping you try to get off them or something. As far as specialists and family doctors go, don't even think about it. They're gonna write it down and file it, and it's going to be used against you at some point. I haven't smoked marijuana in nearly a decade and my dialysis team is STILL asking me if I'm "clean". I don't even like marijuana anymore, but I'd love to walk in there one day with a blunt just to watch everyone pee their pants.



Three lil words spoken extremely loud


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