Steve Jobs' liver, part II: A bright future among dark rumors

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On Tuesday, Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee confirmed that Steve Jobs received a transplant at its facility. An Apple spokesman has stated that he is currently on the road to recovery, and plans to be back at work by the end of June.

According to the American Liver Foundation, 75 percent of liver transplantees survive for five years. Moreover, with a healthy diet and reasonable exercise, Jobs can expect to return to most of his duties at Apple.

However, it will probably be a while before he can host the massive events for which he has been known in the past. For the remainder of his life, Jobs will be on a constantly modified cocktail of anti-rejection drugs that will suppress his immune system, making him more susceptible to a host of diseases. It is still unclear what this will mean for his future at Apple.

Beyond this, Jobs' six-month absence from his company has demonstrated that Apple can, indeed, survive without him. Noting that its stock price fluctuates based on news of Jobs' health, the company appears to be working to ensure that its fortunes are not entirely dependent upon the health of its founder.

In an attempt to quell rumors of preferential treatment, Methodist University Hospital stated that Jobs was the "sickest patient on the waiting list at the time a donor organ became available." However, instead of ending speculation about whether or not the Apple founder received an unfair advantage over other liver patients, the press release actually raised more questions.

The biggest question is why Jobs, a resident of Cupertino, California, was on an organ transplant list in Memphis. It is clear that, at best, Jobs cherry-picked lists, wrangling himself a place in a region that does fewer transplants. The worst -- and likeliest -- scenario is that he managed to get himself placed on numerous lists around the country.

It's worth pointing out that Jobs' gaming of the system probably had little or nothing to do with Methodist University Hospital. He exploited a systemic loophole that enables wealthy people to get preferential treatment when it comes to transplantation. While this probably doesn't seem like a terrifically huge deal, its significance was immeasurable for the second sickest patient on the waiting list at Methodist University Hospital.

UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, emphasizes that "the national allocation system cannot and does not make any distinction of candidate priority based on wealth, celebrity or other purely social characteristics." However, it is hard to imagine how such a distinction can be avoided when wealthy people can pick and choose transplant regions based upon their chances of getting an organ. Regardless of intent, the current guidelines favor the wealthy.

To put this into context, there are currently over 100,000 people on transplant lists, and it is estimated that roughly half of them will die waiting for organs. By allowing wealthy people to effectively speed up their transplantation process, the current system suggests that rich people have a greater right to life.


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