Video: Transplant controversy

msnbc.com
updated 9/29/2005 1:04:25 PM ET 2005-09-29T17:04:25

There's a big scandal brewing tonight at a California hospital involving given preferential treatment to a Saudi Arabian patient.  The Saudi national was able to jump the line for a liver transplant after the embassy reportedly paid St. Vincent's Hospital in L.A. 25 percent more than the normal amount for the liver. 

It's been reported that at least nine patients at that same hospital were also passed over.  The two doctors who performed the surgery are now under investigation.  And the hospital has suspended its live transplant program. 

"Any breach of integrity regarding established transplant patient procedures is unacceptable!  We are conducting a thorough investigation," said Gus Valdespino, President and CEO of St. Vincent Medical Center.

Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, a medical ethicist, agreed.

"It should never be that the organ goes to the highest bidder.  And the system is built on the belief it shouldn't go to the person who can afford it most.  I think it encourages people to go outside the system, and it discourages people from being organ donors," he said.

On Wednesday, Nail al-Jubier of the Saudi Embassy joined MSNBC's Rita Cosby to discuss the allegations.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

RITA COSBY: What do you make of these claims, essentially saying that the Saudi government jumped ahead of all these Americans, paid more money, and therefore got a liver transplant for one of its citizens? 

NAIL AL-JUBIER, SAUDI EMBASSY SPOKESMAN:  Absolutely rubbish!  One thing.  We have patients that come here for transplants that stay on the list.  We've had people who have died waiting on the list.  And they come here, and they have a waiting list, they go back home.  We paid a fee.  We did not pay, as have been claimed as you just said, the hospitals so they move them up. 

We don't know where the list is.  We don't know where they're on the list where the patients are on the list.  We pay the bill within the range of what is expected.  Is it higher than insurance companies pay?  Probably, because insurance companies do negotiate with hospitals.  We as a government don't.  That's why some insurance companies or some hospitals don't accept certain insurance, because of the negotiations that goes on between the insurance companies and the patients.  But as far as paying somebody to skip above the line is completely totally ridiculous. 

COSBY:  That's an interesting point you made about the money.  In fact, let me show you how much money the "L.A. Times" is saying that the royal embassy, your embassy, Paid $339,000 for the transplant and hospital care plus undisclosed fees to the doctors.  As you point out -- now it's interesting you point out for the reason, maybe 25 percent to 35 percent higher.  Do you feel if that's the case that you got ripped off? 

AL-JUBIER:  Well, you see, the cost that was paid went to the hospital.  And the liver transplants in this country range between $250,000 to $400,000.  And there are other expenses.  We paid in one patient up to $2 million because he got a transplant and it failed and there were medical expenses involved.  We pay what it takes for our patients.  But we will not pay to get anyone moved on the list that is not supposed to be. 

COSBY:  So, why do you think that did that to the Saudis?  Why do you think they did now?  Because, you know, even in the hospitals, they put folks on suspension.

AL-JUBIER:  I really don't know what happened.  We were surprised when we saw the wire story a couple of days ago.  We looked into it to try to identify who the people are.  We're looking into it to see whether this is possible, because we had people who were on the list who've died before waiting. 

So, having someone jump on the list is simply unfair!  I have a relative who was on or a kidney transplant waiting list.  And if she has had to wait, because somebody jumped ahead of it is unconscionable!

There are people whose lives depend on it.  And having somebody who just comes in with money and buys is simply unconscionable.  Luckily, her kidney transplant was sent in from Saudi Arabia where she was on the list and was then done here in the United States.

But to bring somebody to pay him is simply unacceptable.  And we've never participated in it!  And when we find out about it we'll definitely not deal with the hospital ever again!

Watch 'Rita Cosby Live & Direct' each night at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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