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Woman with Cystic Fibrosis Dies of Cancer

Jennifer Wederell was born in 1985 with cystic fibrosis. Yet, she died of lung cancer at the age of twenty seven. How did this happen? She only got this cancer after she received an organ lung transplant from the body of a heavy smoker.

She had been on the waiting list for 11 months, until she finally received the lungs in April 2011. However, she was never told that the donor had been a smoker, much less a heavy smoker. Less then a year after the transplant, a malignant mass was found in her lungs. About four months later, she was dead.

The director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center believes that a mistake was made, saying, "They absolutely should have told her. When you have reasons to think a donor organ is suboptimal in some way, you must disclose it and allow a person to make their own decision. People have to know the risks they face."

She may have chosen not to take the lungs. On the other hand, she may have chosen the lungs anyway. Dr. G. Alexander Patterson is of the belief that taking the lungs provided her a better chance of survival, saying, "If she was critically ill and had poor chance of short-term survival, she was better off accepting the transplant." He is the surgical director of lung transplants at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish transplant center in St. Louis, which is one of the largest organ transplant programs in America.

In any event, she should have been given informed consent and allowed the chance to make her own decision.

Is this a case of awrongful death or medical malpractice? Some would likely say yes. Would it prevail in court? As a personal injury attorney, I see numerous obstacles. The lawyers will have numerous issues to litigate, including negligence, causation and damages.