Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Deemed unworthy of life

Gary Reinbach was a 22 year old alcoholic who died of cirrhosis of the liver. He died because he needed to prove that he could abstain from alcohol for six months to have a chance to go on the list for a liver transplant.

By the time he entered hospital about 10 weeks or so ago, he was already acutely ill, too ill to offer or mount a defense against his crime of being an alcoholic. The Times wrote, before he died;

Reinbach, from Dagenham, Essex, does not qualify for an organ because official guidelines state that heavy drinkers must prove that they can be abstinent outside hospital before they are considered.

His condition is so severe that he cannot be discharged to prove he can remain sober.

There is something wrong with the lack of ability to plead one's case or have an able professional plead it on your behalf, when accused of bad faith in these kinds of cases. Especially if your life depends on it.

The list to become a donor recipient is long and organs in short supply. The odds would not have been good even if he'd been one of the deserving ill. He wasn't. And now he's paid the price with his life.

This young man by accounts, wanted to live;
His last words to her [his mother] were: 'Please help me Mum, I don't want to die.'

He had the misfortune to feel pain that triggered a response that got way out of hand, it's OK to be sad, but not in an unseemly way, that makes you undeserving. The break up of his parents relationship, aged 13 was the spur. Every reformed alcoholic or substance abuser has a wake up call story; this was his.

His mother who worked full-time at the time his drinking began, was not immediately aware of any difference between her son and his friends experiments with alcohol.

This has been treated as a cautionary tale, against teenage binge drinking, and the comments have not been at all sympathetic.

It's important for us in FA to remember that we aren't the only ones being targeted for this kind of moralistic judgement, we are not the only ones seen as undeserving of life.

Although I know due to donor shortage, there will be mixed feelings in this case. I feel we should be aware of the rights of all the people who fall foul of current mores, both social and medical. It is not just fat people. We all need to think about how we deal with people who are seen by their peers as culpable for their health problems and how that should affect, if at all, their treatment.

Funnily enough, I've never been very impressed by the whole alcohol is a disease like cancer meme, although I do get that the motives for this are more than straightforward definition.

I've got no time for 'he inflicted it on himself arguments'. I don't feel there is much moral difference between an alcoholic and anyone else; although there is a practical factor of how long the organ can be expected to last if the person cannot stumble upon the angle or ability to stop. I cannot stand the pretense that this is somehow about someone's moral character, bullshit. If there was an effective treatment for alcoholism, this level of self righteous stigma would be punctured. Morality = the level of medical advancement, is not my idea of morality. Especially when you consider how much time and money has been wasted on the ludicrous 'abstinence' debacle, which I wouldn't give tuppence for, on any level. This judgemental moralising is even more tiresome.

I pity the mother from the bottom of my heart the shock of having to watch someone so young die and be told he kind of deserved it or brought it on himself, must feel as strange as it is hard to bear. I hope she can mourn him purely without feeling defensive.

No one will ever know how he could have turned his life around if given a chance, at a chance, with some luck and access to good support, he could have made it.

Now his struggle is over.

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