NBC: Did 'Controversial' Dick Cheney Really Deserve That Heart Transplant?

Sinking to a new low in their disdain for Dick Cheney, the hosts on Monday's NBC Today wondered if the former vice president should have received a recent heart transplant, with Ann Curry declaring at the top of the broadcast: "...even though he has waited longer than most to receive his donor heart, some are questioning whether someone that old should be getting one..." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Fellow co-host Matt Lauer described Cheney as "somebody who tends to stir controversy," who "can cause all kinds of controversy if he orders a cup of tea."

In the report that followed, NBC's left-wing chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman sounded like a one-person death panel, as she fretted: "...this has raised a lot of ethical questions, moral questions, about whether the Vice President, in fact, should have received his heart against – ahead of other people. And, raises the question, how old is too old to receive such a precious transplant?"

While Snyderman acknowledged that Cheney had been "on a waiting list for 20 months before his successful heart transplant surgery this past weekend, longer than most patients," she added: "Still, the news was met with controversy."

Snyderman argued: "When a patient Cheney's age receives such a scarce, life-extending organ, some doctors question whether hospitals are depriving younger patients, who typically survive longer after the surgery."     

She then cited an article from MSNBC.com's Vitals blog, written by bio-ethicist Art Caplan, who couldn't help but use the topic to shill for ObamaCare:

The timing of Cheney's transplant is ethically ironic given that the battle over extending health insurance to all Americans reaches the Supreme Court this week.

If the President's health reform bill is deemed unconstitutional, those who are wealthy or who can easily raise money will continue to have greater access to heart, liver and other forms of transplantation than the uninsured and underinsured.

Wrapping up her report, Snyderman admitted the transplant debate story was mainly driven by the fact that Cheney was the recipient: "And Matt, you said that he's controversial even if he's ordering a cup of tea. It does raise a question whether this were any other 71-year-old, would we be talking about this?"

Talking to Lauer after the taped portion of segment, Snyderman pointed out that Cheney "had really run out of options," leaving the transplant as he only option.

Lauer worried about Cheney getting special treatment: "Is there indication he was given priority?" Snyderman replied: "There is no indication. He did wait for 20 months, which is a reasonably long time." However, she quickly added: "But the question is, always, and this is what the ethicist will talk about, was there a younger person who didn't get the heart, and he did, and will his prognosis be just as good?"

Both ABC's Good Morning America and CBS's This Morning discussed the issue as well. However, the coverage on those shows focused more on Cheney's overall medical condition and did not continually label him as "controversial."   

NBC has a long history of slamming Cheney as a controversial villain. Previewing a 2011 interview with Cheney, on the August 25 broadcast of Today, Curry described the former Vice President as, "One of the most controversial figures of our time." In another preview on August 29, interviewer Jamie Gangel quipped he was, "A conservative hero to his fans, Darth Vader to his critics."

Following Cheney's August 30 live interview with Lauer, the camera zoomed out of the Today show studio and focused on an Amnesty International protest sign outside that ranted: "Torture is a Crime: Investigate Cheney."

The most outrageous attack on Cheney came from MSNBC host Ed Schultz, who in February of 2010 called for the ailing vice president's heart to be used as a "political football": "We ought to rip it out and kick it around and stuff it back in him."  


Here is a transcript of the March 26 segment:

7:41AM ET

LAUER: Former Vice President Dick Cheney is recovering at a Virginia hospital this morning after receiving a heart transplant over the weekend. A surgery that has some questioning how hospitals determine which patients receive priority. Dr. Nancy Synderman is NBC's chief medical editor. Nancy, good morning.

NANCY SNYDERMAN: Good morning, Matt.

LAUER: Dick Cheney can cause all kinds of controversy if he orders a cup of tea. But talk to me about this list and how it works.

SNYDERMAN: Well, it's – people say it's unlikely that the 71-year-old jumped – jumped the line. But nonetheless, this has raised a lot of ethical questions, moral questions, about whether the Vice President, in fact, should have received his heart against – ahead of other people. And, raises the question, how old is too old to receive such a precious transplant?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Cheney's New Lease On Life; 71-Year-Old Former VP Gets Heart Transplant]

71-year-old former Vice President Dick Cheney was on a waiting list for 20 months before his successful heart transplant surgery this past weekend, longer than most patients. Still, the news was met with controversy.

DR. ERIC J. TOPOL [CARDIOLOGIST, SCRIPPS HEALTH]: Age is the hot-button here, because if Mr. Cheney was 55, there wouldn't be any discussion.

SNYDERMAN: More than 3,000 Americans are on the national waiting list for a heart transplant. But every year, hundreds die before they receive a new heart. When a patient Cheney's age receives such a scarce, life-extending organ, some doctors question whether hospitals are depriving younger patients, who typically survive longer after the surgery. Bio-ethicist Dr. Art Caplan writes on the MSNBC.com Vitals blog, "In a system in which donor's hearts are very scarce, shouldn't the young, who are more likely to benefit both in terms of survival and years of life added, take precedence over the old?" More than 70% of heart transplant recipients live at least another five years. But long-term survival is slightly lower for those over the age of 65.

DR. TOPOL: That's always a judgment call, knowing that background. Is a person who's going to get the transplant who's older more likely to do well than the average?

SNYDERMAN: Mr. Cheney has a long history of heart problems. He had his first heart attack at age 37, while running for Wyoming's sole House seat. His second heart attack came six years later, followed by an emergency quadruple bypass in 1988. Cheney suffered two more heart attacks, including one in 2000 during the Florida recount, after which he and George W. Bush took office. His fifth heart attack came in 2010. After that, doctors installed a special device known as a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, to aid his ailing heart. A device he later showed NBC's Jamie Gangel.

DICK CHENEY: You just – you deal with it. You take whatever the doctors recommend, the latest step, and I've been able to live a full, normal, active life.

SNYDERMAN: Cheney and his family have released a statement saying that while they don't know the donor, they will be forever grateful for this life-saving gift. And Matt, you said that he's controversial even if he's ordering a cup of tea. It does raise a question whether this were any other 71-year-old, would we be talking about this?

LAUER: This waiting list, when you're on this list is it like the deli counter? You take a number and it's first come, first served? Or do they take into consideration things like age, other health issues, and prognosis?

SNYDERMAN: They take into factor a lot of parameters. How bad your heart is and if you don't have it, will you die? And he had really run out of options. Age, how good your kidneys and lungs are? Then there's the whole thing about tissue typing. You just can't get anybody else's heart. And if you have the means and the access to a private jet, you can register at various transplant centers around the world...

LAUER: So you can get there quickly if a heart becomes available.

SNYDERMAN: ...Remember Steve Jobs did that with his liver, so you can get there. And he may have done that. But nonetheless, he had this at the hospital where he'd had some previous surgeries.

LAUER: Is there indication he was given priority?

SNYDERMAN: There is no indication. He did wait for 20 months, which is a reasonably long time. But the question is, always, and this is what the ethicist will talk about, was there a younger person who didn't get the heart, and he did, and will his prognosis be just as good? The overall stats are that for five years, he has a 70% survival rate.

LAUER: And real quickly, he'll be on immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of his life.

SNYDERMAN: For the rest of his life, which means he's more at risk for infection and some tumors. These are not inconsequential drugs.

LAUER: Dr. Nancy Snyderman. Nancy, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

SNYDERMAN: You bet, Matt.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC