Steve Jobs, His Transplant, and Whose Business Is It Anyway?

Jumping the Line for Organ Transplant Raises Ethical Questions

Steve Jobs in 2011 during an Apple launch event.
Steve Jobs during a 2011 Apple launch event. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Steve Jobs, the founder and CEO of Apple Computer, generated a storm of criticism when he received a liver transplant in a way that many call jumping the line. While most of us will never need such a drastic and difficult treatment, Jobs' approach to getting the healthcare he needed raised both process and ethical questions.

How Steve Jobs Got His Liver Transplant

Steve Jobs at age 54 was an icon of business, the "god" of Apple computer, with a creative and inventive mind.

Over the years he earned billions of dollars for himself, his company, and his stockholders.

Steve Jobs was also a very sick man. He battled pancreatic tumors for a number of years, and ultimately knew he could no longer survive without a liver transplant. So, he got one.

What's unique, and caused controversy, is that Jobs lived in California where the waiting list for a liver would have made it impossible for him to get one. In California, he would have not received a liver. So instead, he kept an eye on areas of the United States where the waiting lists are far shorter. When a liver became available in Tennessee, Jobs hopped ​on his private jet and claimed it.

Some argue that wasn't fair, that someone in Tennessee didn't get a liver (and possibly died) because Jobs jumped the line. In the United States, you can't buy an organ. There is a complicated system that moves people closer to, or farther from, the front of the line depending on the depth of their illness and their geography.

Because Jobs had the money and the private plane, he could affect his geography.

There was further controversy because investors in Apple Computers felt as if they should have been told about Jobs' degree of illness. Since it affected their income, they contended that they had a right to know, and they were upset because they weren't told about his need and pursuit of a transplant.

Ethical Questions on Steve Jobs' Liver Transplant

  • Health Ethics: Was it fair for Jobs to jump the line by traveling to Tennessee to get his new liver?
  • Business Ethics: Did Jobs owe his stockholders information about his health so they could make business decisions?

My Opinions on Steve Jobs' Liver Transplant

Health: Jobs' ability to jump the line points out the inequities in an organ donation system that has mostly been considered to be highly ethical and fair. On any given day in the United States, there are 100,000 people awaiting a transplant, and 19 of them die.

In a general sense, I understand why some think it's not fair, especially the family of someone who may have died because Jobs got the liver they might have gotten. However — if you had the need and the means, wouldn't you do whatever you could to get the treatment you needed?

Business: No matter whether Jobs was president of a large corporation or a greeter at Wal-Mart, I believe he owed information about his health to no one else. It's his health. It's his private business.

No matter how his investors felt about it, including Warren Buffett who believes Jobs' condition should have been disclosed, I say — no, Jobs owed information to no one.

Besides, he was sick for a long time — that was nothing new. Granted, we would all like a crystal ball when we buy stock, but he could have been hit by a truck or died in a plane crash and it would not have been predicted.

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