The Nataline Sarkisyan case: I’m just shocked, shocked, to learn Edwards has lied again

To the surprise of no one sensible, it turns out that John Edwards’s and Daily Kos’s claims about Nataline Sarkisyan, the 17-year-old California woman who recently died awaiting a liver transplant, are false:

  • Independent reviewing doctors unanimously recommended against the liver transplant as too risky, which is why CIGNA refused to grant approval.
  • CIGNA changed its mind in response to political pressure and publicity, but their delay in approval probably would not have affected Sarkisyan, as several reports indicate her treating medical institution, UCLA, would not have waited for insurance approval if a donor organ became available. (For example, Forbes.)
  • And, of course, US patients are far more likely to get organ transplants (and survive organ transplants) than patients in single-payer health care systems—so Edwards has absolutely no solution for the problem of people getting sick and dying in a world of scarcity.

Scott Gottlieb has details in the Wall Street Journal. Attorney Mark Geragos has been retained to sue CIGNA, though CIGNA was only administering Sarkisyan’s health insurance plan, and would have suffered no financial repercussions from approving the transplant.

(Disclosure: I own between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock in CIGNA.)


  • You wrote that these were “independent doctors,” but that should read, “doctors retained by CIGNA as experts.”

    There’s a big difference. If the family had retained the experts, I seriously doubt you would call them “independent.”

    And your statement of what the medical institution would have done is also overstated, as you claim the institution “would not have waited for insurance approval if a donor organ became available.”

    But the article doesn’t actually say that, but rather, it gives the journalists assessment of what some hospitals generally do. The article doesn’t say what UCLA would have done in this particular case.

    And with those two exaggerations, you want to say Edwards “lied?”

  • I have enjoyed reading Overlawyered for many years. What I enjoy less is the partisan nature of the blog in recent times- Democrats are bad, Republicans are good. The entry for this could have stated your opinion about the lawsuit from the victim and CIGNA and your believe that the lawsuit has no merits, but to purposefully put in John Edwards and the DailyKos muddies the message. I know it is hard to separate the lawyers from the Democratic party, but I would enjoy this blog more if in wasn’t so obviously political. Some entries in this blog seem to have nothing to do with the crazy lawsuits in this country, only with bashing various Democrats.

    If it makes any difference, I am registered as an Independent. I voted for a Democrat in the last major election and plan on voting for a Republican in the next (if my candidate makes it through).

  • I care about policies, not individual parties. John Edwards is using this lawsuit to promote some very bad policies, and that has more impact than the lawsuit itself. I’d be just as critical if a Republican were misusing this case. If John McCain or Mike Huckabee picks up the cudgel to demonize CIGNA, I’ll be just as critical.

    We’ve criticized Republican Trent Lott and, just today, Republican Ron Paul. We’ve celebrated Democrats who have been willing to support constructive solutions to civil justice reform.

  • Eric,

    You made several errors in your post.

    I’m willing to concede that independent doctors are those hired by parties with no direct financial stake in the outcome of the decision. That includes those retained by CIGNA, but not those retained by the insurance company itself, the family, or their attorneys. The most independent doctors unanimously concluded what Ted said they did.

    Ted also didn’t say that the specific article you’re looking at said that the hospital would have gone ahead with the transplant anyway. I’m not going to link it all for you, but there are a number of reports that do state that, as well as the fact that even if you do take only the general principle that hospitals most often make the decision Ted said they would, an impartial observer (i.e, not a personal injury lawyer) would assume the general practice applied here unless there was a specific reason to make an exception. No evidence that this case is different from the norm is available.

    So yes, Edwards lied, and Ted did not exaggerate.

  • The situation is even worse than reported here. The patient got a bone marrow transplant, which treatment is not efficacious but is expensive, political and dangerous. In my mind the bone marrow transplant probably killed the patient.

    It was just a few months ago that Senator Bill Frist made a diagnose based on a a several second clip from 11 hours of video of Terri Schiavo. That was absolutely disgusting. So to is John Edwards rant against insurance companies.

    We seem to be country of perverts.

  • It’s my understanding from reading other articles about this case that the young lady’s doctors believed that her recurring leukemia (treatment for which led to her liver failure) was going to prove fatal, and that the liver transplant, even if successful, would only prolong her life by about 3 months. If that is true, then it seems to me that it would have been irresponsible for any doctor to perform (or approve) a transplant. The young lady’s health was already seriously compromised by the effects of the chemotherapy and the bone marrow transplant. Doctors determined that there was little chance that the liver transplant would be sucessful, given her condition. Why then should an available donor liver have been given to this patient, when there are so many other people waiting for livers — people who, unlike this poor young lady, actually would have their lives saved by a transplant? We have a limited amount of donor livers available to people in need. We have an obligation to make sure that livers (and other donor organs) go to those who are most likely to have their lives saved. It makes no sense to transplant a donor liver into the body of a person who is unlikely to survive the transplant operation and who, if she does survive the operation, is unlikely to survive her underlying illness for more than a few months. Some people think it was “cruel” to deny this young lady even a very slim chance of surviving for a few more months. I think it would have been more cruel to deny some other liver transplant patient on the waiting list the chance at life that that person would have been denied if the liver had gone to the young lady in this story.

  • In John Edwards’ America, there will be livers for all workers, and they’ll be extracted from Republicans if necessary.

  • Prometheus was Republican? I thought the Ancient Greeks were Democrats?

  • Imagine that; if you were about to die, the doctors asked you if you would kindly donate your liver (or whatever organ of your choosing) to a stranger; – in order for said recipient to live three additional months on this planet, in a hospital bed, with tubes going in and out of her body, receiving debilitating medication and in great pain – would anyone say yes?

    – Or would you rather donate your liver to Dean Martin?

  • Gee…you own a lot of stock in CIGNA *and* you take their side…what a surprise…

    Oh yeah, and bone marrow transplants kill patients…right, that’s why they do them in the first place…give me a break!

    You people have no problem with big businesses making health care decisions for you, but God forbid we let a democratically-elected govt. do the “deciding”, which will never happen BTW in a single-payer system.

  • Mister Guty–It already does; that’s why Canadians are coming to U.S. hospitals.

    Canada, if I understand the definition right IS a single-payer system.

    Oh, yeah: “Between $15,000 and $50,000 in CIGNA stock”–isn’t that much; it wouldn’t pay for a transplant operation.

    Also, it was Mr. Nuesslein, not Ted, who brought up the bone-marrow transplant in his post.

    Nice try. You must be an Edwards supporter.

  • […] Late, but worth noting: blogger nails John Edwards’s demagoguery on Nataline Sarkisyan case [Matthew Holt @ Spot-On, via KevinMD; more here, here, and from Ted here] […]