By contributor
updated 7/26/2010 6:22:08 PM ET 2010-07-26T22:22:08

Correction: In response to a July 26 New York Post report that alleged killer Johnny Concepcion received a liver transplant this month, published the below commentary by contributor and bioethicist Art Caplan, Ph.D. The commentary posed the question whether it was ethical for Concepcion to receive an organ when so many others are desperately seeking a lifesaving liver, and concluded that medical need should be the primary criterion for organ transplantation.

However, a hospital spokesperson now says the liver transplant never took place. The New York Post took down their story on July 27 and issued the following statement:

“In Monday’s editions of the New York Post we published a story that confessed wife killer Johnny Concepcion underwent a liver transplant operation at New York Presbyterian Hospital. The hospital today issued a statement that no such operation took place. The Post relied on two NYPD sources for its report and it is now evident they were misinformed. We apologize to our readers for the error. Prior to publishing the story, the Post sought official response from New York Presbyterian Hospital. The Post was denied information by the hospital which stated it could not discuss individual cases because it would be in breach of the [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rule (HIPAA). Curiously, the hospital now sees itself free to publicly discuss Mr. Concepcion’s case.”

Johnny Concepcion, a 42-year-old man accused of stabbing his wife to death, just received a liver transplant at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in New York. Now many are wondering how an accused killer could jump to the top of a long list of those needing transplants.

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Concepcion has reportedly confessed to friends and relatives that he killed his wife, Jordania Sarita. Earlier this month, police found the 36-year-old woman stabbed at least 15 times in the home she had shared with her husband and their three children for 18 years. The two had recently separated.

After the murder, Concepcion took off and became the object of a huge manhunt by the New York City police. Knowing the cops were closing in, he swallowed a container of rat poison. After someone saw him collapse in the street and called 911, he was taken by ambulance to the hospital where doctors determined his liver had failed.

They searched the donor lists, a liver donor showed up, and Concepcion, who was charged with weapons possession and murder, received a transplant, The New York Post reported. My hunch is public funds paid the bill. As soon as he was released from the hospital he was taken to jail and is due in court in the Bronx to face the murder charge on Aug. 11.

So, what was Concepcion doing on the top of the liver transplant waiting list — which on Monday numbered 16,003 — when others who have not killed anyone or destroyed their livers by swallowing rat poison are desperately seeking new organs? And what were the doctors thinking transplanting a guy who had tried to kill himself, who showed up with a posse of police and whose new liver is not likely to ever get used outside prison walls?

The current system for distributing organs makes no exceptions either for murderers or attempted suicides. If there is a matching organ then the person who is the most in need, which Concepcion most certainly was, has top priority for it.

Newsvine poll: Should killers be banned from getting a transplant?

Did the doctors have to list Concepcion? They did not. They could have said he is a lousy candidate since he tried to kill himself and he is likely to headed for prison where living with a liver transplant is not going to be easy.

But doctors don’t make ethical judgments about those they care for. They treat the cop who has been shot and the criminal whom the cop shot with equal care. Medicine is not the place to start deciding whose illness is deserving and whose is not. Doctors are not trained to sort out the saints from the sinners but rather to treat everyone in need — an ethic that Concepcion benefited from but one that I don’t think should be changed.

So what to do? If we don’t want confessed killers or convicted murderers to get transplants, then our legislators should do something about that. At the end of the day if you are furious that Johnny Concepcion is still alive to face trial you should blame politicians, not doctors.

Arthur Caplan is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

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