A fair trial? Assessment of liver transplant candidates with psychiatric illnesses

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Allocating scarce organs to transplant candidates is only one stage in the long process of organ transplantation. Before being listed, all candidates must undergo a rigorous assessment by a multidisciplinary transplant team. The Department of Health and NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) are responsible for the development of detailed strategies to ensure a fair and objective assessment experience for all transplant candidates. Difficulties arise when particularly vulnerable candidates, such as candidates with psychiatric illnesses, are assessed. NHSBT has already developed unique assessment guidelines for alcoholic and substance-abusing liver transplant candidates to allow for a more comprehensive evaluation, but candidates with psychiatric illnesses are still assessed against general criteria. Should these candidates be assessed against their own criteria? On what clinical grounds do transplant teams justify excluding such candidates from transplantation? Is redress available for candidates who feel they have been unfairly refused a liver transplant simply because of their psychiatric illness? This essay will critically examine the provisions published by the Department of Health and NHSBT for the assessment of liver transplant candidates with psychiatric illnesses, and will provide a commentary as to whether enough is being done to protect these particularly vulnerable candidates from inconsistent assessment decisions.

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