Bills would bar hospitals from denying transplant surgery based on COVID vaccinations status

FILE – Surgical instruments are used during an organ transplant surgery at a hospital in Washington on Tuesday, June 28, 2016. The U.S. counted its millionth organ transplant on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, a milestone that comes at a critical time for Americans still desperately waiting for that chance at survival. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

RALEIGH — Identical bills filed in both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly would bar hospitals from denying transplant surgeries based on COVID-19 vaccination status. 

House Bill 586 and Senate Bill 644 were filed on April 6 and would prohibit transplant centers in the state from discriminating against persons seeking to donate or receive an organ “solely on the basis of their COVID-19 vaccination status.” 

The primary sponsors of the House version are Reps. Celeste Cairns (R-Carteret), Sarah Stevens (R-Surry), Kristin Baker (R-Cabarrus) and Donna White (R-Johnston). Sen. Jim Perry (R-Lenoir) is the primary sponsor of the bill in the Senate. 

If enacted, the law would take effect Oct. 1. 

There have been two publicized incidents of patients being denied transplant organs in North Carolina. 

It was reported last December that 14-year-old Yulia Hicks was denied a kidney transplant by Duke University Hospital because she was not vaccinated for COVID-19. Duke denied the teen the surgery despite Hicks having already had a case of COVID.  

Another case that received national attention was that of 31-year-old Chad Carswell, who was denied a kidney transplant in January 2022 by Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem for the same reason as Hicks. 

In a statement at the time, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist said their “policy follows the current standard of care in the United States, which is to vaccinate all patients on waiting lists or being evaluated for transplant.” The statement went on to say the hospital understands some patients don’t want to be vaccinated for COVID-19, and “In this case, patients can opt to be evaluated at another transplant center.”