Surgeons operating on a patient.

When Leilani Lutali entered Stage 5 renal failure, she faced an important decision: transplant, dialysis, or no treatment. She opted for a transplant and waited. 

But after months on the transplant list, Lutali faced another choice: her health or religion.

Colorado Hospital’s New COVID Policy

UCHealth’s new COVID-19 policy directly affects transplant candidates, CBS Denver reports. The hospital will no longer approve organ transplants for unvaxxed patients. There are several reasons why.

“For transplant patients who contract COVID-19, the mortality rate ranges from about 20% to more than 30%,” UCHealth’s statement reads. “This shows the extreme risk that COVID-19 poses to transplant recipients after their surgeries.” 

Further, patients have to take “powerful drugs to suppress their immune system,” Nancy Foster of the AHA told AP. These drugs “keep their body from rejecting the new organ.” 

Due to these meds, “if patients were to wait to get their vaccine until after the surgery, it is unlikely that their immune system could mount the desired antibody reaction.”

Medical Care Or Religious Freedom

Jaimee Fougner, Lutali’s donor, met Lutali in Bible study. Both women have refused the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds. 

“As a Christian, I can’t support anything that has to do with the abortion of babies. The sanctity of life for me is precious,” Lutali told AP

The COVID-19 vaccines, however, do not contain aborted fetal cells. Rather, they contain fetal cell lines. Fetal cell lines are grown in a lab from aborted fetal cells collected in the 1970s and ‘80s. 

Plus, the Vatican has voiced support for the vaccines. Still, Lutali has tried to push back against the new policy.

“I said I’ll sign a medical waiver,” she told CBS Denver. “I have to sign a waiver anyway for the transplant itself. I’m not sure why I can’t sign a waiver for the COVID shot.”

Is This Religious Bias?

While the COVID-19 vaccine is still novel, these types of requirements are not. UCHealth also requires Hepatitis B and MMR vaccines before surgeries. These vaccines increase the chance of a successful transplant. 

There are more than 100,000 people on the national transplant list. 83% of those patients are waiting on a kidney. Sadly, 17 people die every day waiting for their turn. 

Moreover, organ allocation emphasizes five ethical criteria, one of which is the likelihood of benefit. If not being vaccinated for COVID-19 reduces the success rate, that is a lower likelihood of benefit. 

So, no, it is not discrimination. The pair is currently looking at out-of-state hospitals. No Colorado hospital will approve their surgery. 

Still, Lutali is optimistic she won’t have to choose between religion and her health after all. “I have hope that something will come along that is something I can live with in terms of my choices,” Lutali told AP.

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