Johnny Concepcion, 43, who allegedly confessed to stabbing to death his wife Jordania Sarita on July 5 and then tried to commit suicide by taking rat poison, which destroyed his liver, was rumored to have been given a precious liver transplant last Friday in New York.
A spokesman from the New York-Presbyterian Hospital has since denied this ever happened, but the story has sparked outrage nonetheless.
What if Concepcion had received a new liver ahead of nearly 2,000 other New Yorkers on an organ donation list, despite the fact that he will stand trial for murder?
If the story had been true, he would have gone to the head of the list based on factors that probably would have included the severity of his condition, his otherwise good physical condition and his relatively young age.
And if the story had been true, Concepcion’s character and criminal behavior would not have been considered in order to get a new liver.
For Concepcion to have gotten a liver, he would have had to step in front of children and decent, hard-working New Yorkers. He would have had to step in front of people who could provide histories of helping others, rather than hurting them.
He would have had to step in front of those who would have used the liver he received to contribute to society and nurture their families, rather than wasting away in prison, for life.
Yet, despite all the protests and all the terrible ironies, this is exactly as it should be.
The integrity of organ transplant programs around the country demands that no judgment ever be made as to the value of one person versus any other.
No preference may be paid to a law-abiding citizen over a killer, nor to a Nobel Prize winning scientist over a sanitation worker, nor to a billionaire over a homeless person. The medical system should be as blind to whether the organ recipient is a predator or a healer as the justice system should be blind to race or age or socioeconomic status.
We should never put doctors or public health officials in the impossible position of choosing the value of one individual over another, lest we find ourselves in those damning gray areas that would challenge us to weigh the intelligence and ability and good deeds of one person against those of another.
It is not anyone’s place to play God in that way, and the sensibility and sanctity of our medical establishment and political system demand that we resist any call to ever do so.
It is as simple and as monumental as that.
Johnny Concepcion may do little to ever redeem himself, or he might strive mightily and find some way to reclaim a sliver of his soul.
But that is not our concern when it comes to deciding whether doctors will care for him. The decency of a man or woman must never determine the degree of compassion of the health care system.
It is not the place of an organ transplant program to impose death sentences, but, rather, to impartially bestow the gift of life according to objective standards.
In the end, Johnny Concepcion may turn out to do nothing of value in this world other than this: If he did receive the liver transplant, his life from this day forward shall be testimony to the greatness of our culture and the uncompromising moral underpinnings of our health care system. Let it stand as a beacon to all that is good and wise inside us that a man who took the life of a loving mother of three was himself saved from certain death by highly trained surgeons and an anonymous organ donor, none of whom would hazard playing judge and jury.
If your children are old enough to understand, please tell them that, yes, even murderers can get organ transplants in America. We should not squander this pristine example of the powerful and uncompromising spirit that still makes this country the world’s best hope.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, “Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty” has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.