OTTAWA SENATORS OWNER EUGENE MELNYK MADE A PUBLIC PLEA FOR A LIVER DONOR. THE REQUEST WAS MET WITH COMPASSION AND CHARITY AND SUCCESS. IT WAS ALSO MET WITH SOME MORAL COWARDICE DISGUISED AS ETHICAL JUDGEMENT
Just over a week ago, Bio-vale founder, billionaire and current Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk announced that he was in desperate need of a living liver donor. If he didn’t find one soon, his life wasn’t merely in jeopardy, it was done. According to Melnyk’s camp, the Sens owner has been quietly trying to find a donor for months without any success. Before his public plea he “exhausted all other options,” while his condition deteriorated to the point of no return. So he took the unconventional and unprecedented step of appealing directly to the public through his loudest, most direct public platform; the Ottawa Senators. And while there was an immediate, successful response (in the days following the announcement, some reports had the number of responses pegged as high as 2000, a dozen candidates were being screened just days later and Melnyk underwent a successful transplant immediately following the Victoria day weekend) there’s also been no shortage of hand wringing and ethical finger waving. The Ottawa Citizen ran a snarky themed article comparing Melnyk’s five day wait to a liver transplant survivor who waited over six hundred days and just days later they published an article questioning whether Melnyk, who calls Barbados home most of the year, should have been eligible for treatment in a Ontario hospital. It was yet another example, critics and naysayers contend, of the rich using their wealth and power and influence to buy benefits the rest of us weren’t allowed or entitled to. And reading some of the criticism in both the media and the feedback they received, you couldn’t help but get the feeling that a lot of people would have wallowed in a sense of smug satisfaction if Melnyk had wound up in a coffin.
And this is why those critics and naysayers are idiots.
Look, the rich and famous have earned every ounce of the considerable animosity and contempt they find themselves the target of. Tax shelters, tax evasion and having obedient politicians writing and rewriting laws and legislation to their constant advantage are just the first few items on an impossibly long list of things the storied 1% enjoy on a daily basis. And a lot of times they get away with high crimes while telling the rest of us to “pull up our boot straps,” work harder for less and appreciate a shrinking slice of the pie. There’s a new fad in the United States where the upper crust are convicted of horrible, heinous crimes and are granted virtual forgiveness because of their wealth and status. In 2014, Texan Ethan Couch plead guilty to killing four people and injuring two more while driving drunk. He then capped off his night of felonious escapades by fleeing the scene. Sixteen years old at the time, his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit for adults. He was sentenced to ten years probation and rehab after he was “diagnosed” with “affluenza,” a bogus psychological “condition” that states he wasn’t criminally responsible because he couldn’t grasp the consequences of his actions as a result of his privileged upbringing. Last summer, billionaire Samuel Curtis Johnson III (even his name is pretentious) was sentenced to a mere four months in prison for sexual assaults Johnson plead guilty to sexually fondling and groping his stepdaughter, beginning the abuse when she was only twelve years old. And there are more stomach turning examples just like these, so yeah, the rich pretty much have their own set of rules, rules that, like the sandboxes they play in, are way better then those for the rest of us.
But the anger in this instance is misplaced. Let me ask you this-if you were in a spot where the remainder of your lifespan was measured by weeks and days instead of years, would you not use every ethical resource at your disposal to find a cure? Let me save you the trouble of answering-of course you would. It isn’t like Melnyk is buying some child out of slavery and then ripping a functioning liver out of them the way some of his critics make it sound (trust me, if he was I’d be personally leading the torch and pitchfork mob to get it back). According to him, he spent months looking for a living donor the conventional ways, but it turned out no one in his circle of friends or family were compatible. Nor is he jumping to the front of a donor line, the way some have alleged. He is looking for healthy, living donors, a donor who chooses to donate specifically to Melnyk. He isn’t bumping anyone off a current waiting list. This is his last chance, and again I would ask the question-if you had his resources, would you not use every last one of them to (ethically) extend your life? And let’s not forget Bryan Murray, who revealed last fall that he was being treated for terminal Stage 4 Cancer. Murray has no chance of remission and all he can do is manage the effects until the disease inevitably claims him. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Murray transformed his tragedy into an opportunity to educate others on the importance of regular testing. Don’t think for a second that Melnyk’s plight isn’t also raising awareness of the isue. In fact the various government agencies responsible for organ donation, evaluation and transplants should be all over this as a chance to promote the importance of organ donation.
Is it fair that some people have this platform while others equally (or more) deserving do not? No. But in an age of social media and crowd funding, when a message of hope or a cute cat video can circle the globe in a matter of hours, everyone’s voice has a better chance of being heard the it did even ten years ago. In this case, Melnyk was able to use his hockey team to raise his call for help above the chorus, and he was able to do so without drowning out anyone else’s voice. There are plenty of reasons to resent the well to do, but this isn’t one of them.