L.A. Hospital Denies Liver Transplant to Medical Marijuana User Despite Prescription from Its own Doctor

Saturday, November 19, 2011
Norman Smith (photo: Americans for Safe Access)
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles is refusing to grant a liver transplant to a cancer patient because he used medical marijuana, which not only is legal under California law but also was prescribed by a Cedars doctor.
Diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in 2009, Norman B. Smith, 63, has been treated at Cedars-Sinai by oncologist Steven Miles, who approved medicinal marijuana in part to help his patient cope with the effects of chemotherapy. Smith became eligible for a liver transplant last year, but was removed from the list in February after testing positive for marijuana.
Hospital officials are insisting that Smith stop using marijuana for at least six months, undergo random drug testing, and participate in weekly substance-abuse counseling before they will consider putting him back on the list.
Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a medical marijuana advocacy group, publicly urged Cedars-Sinai to re-list Smith for a liver transplant and to alter its transplant eligibility policy.
“Denying necessary transplants to medical marijuana patients is the worst kind of discrimination,” said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. “Cedars-Sinai would not be breaking any laws, federal or otherwise, by granting Norman Smith a liver transplant, and it’s certainly the ethical thing to do.”
Other medical marijuana patients in need of transplants have been denied by Cedars-Sinai and other hospitals in the U.S., according to ASA.
-Noel Brinkerhoff

Letter of Delisting from Cedars-Sinai to Norman Smith (pdf) 

See all 20 comments


MARY I 10 years ago
Im going throught this very same thing right now. My father is dieing and they denied him for the very same reason!! Please, Please someone help me and if u could let me know if there's something I can do for my father so he could get this operation he needs . :'(
mcboom 11 years ago
I have the same issue, have stopped waiting for their 3-day evaluation but honestly I'd rather smoke than get a transplant when I think about this. It's just so dishonest and against their code to save people. Save all except marijuana smokers. Cruel and unusual punishment. I wonder if they will deny me pain medication also since I'm a filthy pot smoker? Their attitude is suck on it druggie.
Rand 12 years ago
i am very saddened to read this. i have always looked to cedars-sinai to be on the cutting edge in medical issues, it's where i've encouraged family members to come for treatment, but this really makes me question your organizational judgement. that a physician on your staff would write a prescription only to have your administrators use it against a patient in need, is beyond the pale. first do no harm...while not literally in the hippocratic oath, should certainly be foremost in the adminstrator's oath.
mary 12 years ago
are you kidding me. this is just disgusting. marijuana is less harmful than alcohol or freakin tylenol. no value on human life in this freakin country.
Charles Duemler 12 years ago
an evil act to deny what god gave us, what god stated as good. only bad thing i know of is a short term memory loss. for a year i got the best grades of my life studying every day after smoking gods gift. 4x the fiber from gods gift over planting trees as well as better boards. oceans and lakes everywhere are filled with the evil plastic lines that are used for fishing instead of bio-degradable ones that we used to use made from gods gift. churches have forgotten how to make holy water, gods gift is a main ingredient.
c. c. 12 years ago
@kp: when you say "you don't have to smoke it.", what exactly do you mean? does it mean mr. smith doesn't have to smoke it, go against his doctor's legally prescribed medication which is helping him immensely, undergo unnecessary counseling and random drug testing the likes many convicted felons don't have to go through, in order to satisfy an arbitrary decision made by a group of people who were probably only aware of the facts as written on paper, and more than likely only gave those papers a cursory glance and quite possibly aren't medical doctors but hospital administrators, or he doesn't have to smoke it because he can eat it instead? either option is unacceptable as he would still test postive for thc if he eats instead of smokes it.
kP 12 years ago
you don't have to smoke it.
Dominic 12 years ago
i think all the commentators here are missing the most important point in the article. smith is being punished for following his doctors prescription, if the hospital is annoyed, they should target the doctor prescribing the medicine, not the paitent. yet another reason why i'm glad i don't have to deal with the insanity that is the american medical industry
Banished Jester 12 years ago
alfons: there are several studies that you can refer to to study the health effects of smoking marijuana plant matter and the effects of smoking marijuana with regard to the development of lung cancer. google: 2006 ucla marijuana cancer study. this study concludes, after over twenty years of research, that cannabis does not contribute to the development of lung cancer and actually has some protective qualities. believe it! and when you are done reading know it! also google: cannabis safety studies. on the site you find will be a list of cannabis safety studies dating back to the middle 1800's. every single study on the list is wonderful and has nothing but goodness to float about cannabis and its wonderful benefits. one study done by the dea, yes the dea, reviewed by judge francis young quotes mr. young as writing "cannabis in its natural form is one of the safest most therapeutically active substances known to man." if we do not get our federal and local governments to give credit to the truth of the matter regarding cannabis then it is time that we overthrew them. the damage they have done is just inexcusable.
Recks 12 years ago
@alfons - you are burning plant matter, but there are far less carcinogens in marijuana than your average cigarette. studies show that you can smoke a joint daily for 10 years and only increase chances for lung cancer by ~5%, compare that to a more than 25% increase in chances for lung cancer when smoking cigarettes over the same time period. there are no real toxins in marijuana, but i do not agree that it helps with depression or anxiety. it's actually a large contributor of depression as well as anxiety for its users, but that is more or less due to the users psychological state of mind. most people that are "addicted" to marijuana, are using the "high" to cope or replace something missing or unfulfilled in their lives. this will eventually become a more serious addiction leading to "harder" drugs in almost all cases. that being said though tobacco and alcohol are much more damaging to its users, if the hospital should be refusing anyone a liver transplant it should be the alcoholics that have drank theirs away. i would be interested to know if the hospital requires that patients getting liver transplants stop smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, as well as actively test for these substances. i would much rather see a medical marijuana user get a liver before a smoker or an alcoholic...

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