In a hotly contested medical and moral quandary, healthcare providers must decide whether those who are addicted to alcohol should be placed on the list to receive liver transplants. If someone has actively destroyed their own liver through excess alcohol consumption in the past or more importantly are currently drinking too much, many argue they should not be eligible to receive a transplant over individuals who do not have a drinking problem. However, critics argue discriminating purely against alcoholics is unfair because many people in need of a transplant have harmed their liver through other poor choices such as drug addiction or years of obesity.

A Six Month Waiting Period For Alcoholics Has Been The Compromise

To keep people on both sides of the debate happy a six-month waiting period for alcoholics was instituted. This means that before they can receive a new liver, alcoholics must stay sober for at least 6 months to prove they are serious about sobriety post-operation. This ends up having two purposes:

  1. Weeds out individuals who may destroy their rare transplant organ quickly
  2. Find individuals whose liver disease symptoms may resolve once they cease drinking and therefore may be able to avoid transplantation

Nearly 20 percent of liver transplants go to people with an alcohol problem and this is one way to ensure the scarce organ replacement is given to candidates that will not squander their second chance at a healthy life.

New French Study Fans the Flames of Debate

This controversy, which last flared up in the 1990’s when some high-profile celebrities who were known drinkers received liver transplants, has resurfaced due to the publication of a new study from France published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Since only 30 percent of hepatitis patients who are not responding to drug therapy survive for 6 months, forcing the waiting period upon these patients is a death sentence for the vast majority of them. The researchers decided to study the results of early transplantation for these patients and found the survival rates increased to 77 percent at the six-month mark. Of the 26 subjects only 3 of them began drinking again as of three years after the transplantation, which is far lower rate of relapse than expected.

This study calls into question the wisdom and the science of the mandatory six-month waiting period for alcoholics hoping for a liver transplant. More research needs to be done on the topic to have more concrete answers. What do you think about the mandatory waiting period? Should alcoholics receive transplantation without a waiting period? Do you think the waiting period should be left to the doctor’s discretion on a case-by-case basis? Let us know your opinion below.