However, many medical facilities and most insurance carriers require that a patient be free from active alcoholism for six months before a transplant can occur. This is because viable livers are so difficult to come by and waiting lists are long – therefore anyone who could potentially damage their new liver through their own actions cannot be considered until they can demonstrate their ability to abstain. Nevertheless, in a study detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine, the number of patients in this condition are very few and would add only 3% to the total demand for liver transplants. Additionally, the study concluded that;
“Early liver transplantation can improve survival in patients with a first episode of severe alcoholic hepatitis not responding to medical therapy.” (1)
Detractors in this issue are often thought to believe that alcoholism is a matter of choice more than a clinical disease and are therefore against liver transplants for alcoholics because there are too many others who need new livers that don’t drink. But in an article for the Associated Press, Carla K. Johnson quotes the study’s lead author:
“… a strict application of the six-month rule may be unfair to such patients. He said they are just as deserving as other liver patients, many of whom have diseases caused by poor lifestyle choices such as drug use or obesity.” (2)
The only solution for alcoholics – regardless of liver disease – is to seek treatment and stop drinking. In the event that livers are easily created one day in the lab, this public debate might be put to rest. But until then, it makes sense that with the limited supply of healthy replacement livers available in the world, people who are at high risk of damaging those potential new livers are not ranked on waiting lists as favorably as people who would not damage them.
(1) The New England Journal of Medicine Early Liver Transplantation for Severe Alcoholic Hepatitis
(2) Johnson, Carla K. Study Stirs Debate over Transplants for Alcoholics Associated Press