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Nicolais: UCHealth’s transplant policy should make the unvaccinated re-evaluate

After UCHealth placed a transplant candidate on inactive status for failure to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, the balance between personal choice and accountability become clearer

The decision by UCHealth to inactivate a kidney transplant candidate over her choice to go unvaccinated against COVID-19 prompted a furor last week. UCHealth should be applauded for its science-driven decision, and it may end up trailblazing the path for health care providers across the country.

It should also be yet another data point for the stubbornly unvaccinated to reconsider their positions.

Inactivating transplant candidates over counter-productive choices is not new. Drinking a few cold beers would get a candidate booted from the liver transplant list. Refusal to stop smoking would keep one from getting a new pair of lungs. A diet high in bacon, no matter how mouth-watering it may be, is a sure-fire way to keep someone from getting a heart transplant.

Mario Nicolais

Failure to vaccinate against COVID-19 is just another necessary screening protocol.

As I wrote just last week, unvaccinated individuals suffer statistically worse health care outcomes. That is not a subjective statement; it is a mathematical conclusion.

It is also exactly the kind of data that drives policy decisions for health care providers. Not only do they need to create non-subjective criteria for who receives their limited resources, but they must be realistic about who will benefit the most and the inherent risks to their patients.

From a strictly legal perspective, it would border on negligence for a hospital to perform a procedure on a patient 10 to 20 times as likely to die from a post-procedure infection that could be mitigated by a simple shot. Those are not the kinds of risks most hospitals are willing to take.

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Of course, the transplant candidate in question lashed out in rage. Not only did she accuse the hospital of discrimination, but she enlisted a state representative to her cause. Rep. Tim Geitner proceeded to lay blame at Gov. Jared Polis’ feet, a non sequitur of gargantuan proportions. 

I am still trying to figure out how Geitner reconciles his anti-government positions — his social media feeds include several anti-lockdown posts — with the idea that the governor should insert himself into the policy decisions of a private business. Or whether he believes the governor should dictate health care decisions?

What is next? Geitner leaning over an operating table telling a surgeon how to make an incision?

More concerning is the actual woman at the center and her reaction. Leilani Lutali cited her religious beliefs as justification for remaining unvaccinated. Despite the fact that many religious leaders urge vaccination, and that religious-affiliated hospitals inoculate thousand of patients daily, it is not fruitful to debate her personal convictions. If she says she sincerely believes COVID-19 vaccinations run counter to her faith, I accept that.

But Lutali should accept that her choice comes with consequences.

Far too many anti-vaccination individuals seem intent to avoid the personal accountability that comes that choice when it affects them adversely. From unvaccinated patients begging doctors for the vaccine to those who find themselves on the wrong end of rationed care, it seems many did not realize their choice could have a negative, personal impact.

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While they seem comfortable making a choice detrimental to public health — for whatever reason — outrage and anger follow when the consequences of that choice become personal. That is antithetical to accountability.

I am pessimistic that stories like Lutali’s will change many minds. To the contrary, I think it will spark further resentments and perceived slights. That is unfortunate. Such reactions could leave people unable to access health care and cost lives.

However, maybe it will cause some people to re-examine their choice and rebalance the potential their perceived costs and benefits. If it does, and that leads to an increase in vaccination rates, it would be better for our state as a whole.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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