A trip back to the 60's - South Africa

Life and Death Choices as South Africans Ration Dialysis Care

by Sheri Fink, Special to ProPublica Dec. 15, 2010, 3:18 p.m.

Late last August, 41-year-old Amos Phillips arrived by ambulance at Tygerberg Academic Hospital near Cape Town, South Africa. His kidneys had failed. He was confused, struggling to breathe, and desperate enough to ask doctors to end his life.

The same month, a 43-year-old widow with three children was also treated at Tygerberg for kidney failure. The patient, Karen MacPherson, desperately wanted to live. She said she had been plagued by high blood pressure, a risk factor for kidney disease, since her children’s birth. “It’s because of the high blood [pressure] the kidneys don’t want to work anymore,” she said.

Kidney failure can come on suddenly and affect anyone. Some forms are partial or reversible. Others are permanent and fatal without treatment.

To live, both Amos Phillips and Karen MacPherson would need ongoing dialysis treatment to filter toxins from their blood, sustaining them until they received a kidney transplant. But needing treatment didn’t mean they would get it.

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Propublica Investigation