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Undocumented Residents Go On Hunger Strike for Fair Chance at Organ Transplant

April Callen • Jul 30, 2013

Father Jose Landaverde (l) and hunger strike participant.

Yesterday in the Chicago neighborhood of Little Village, fourteen undocumented patients in need of an organ transplant announced they were going on a hunger strike. The patients and loved ones of those in need of a transplant will strike until several hospitals in the area agree to “put all of the patients on their waiting lists.”

In an open letter to administrators at hospitals and medical centers throughout the city, including Northwestern Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Medical Center, patients, their family, and supporters expressed, “We have taken this extreme measure due to the lack of attention given to our loved ones due to their legal status and lack of insurance.”

The letter continues:

“Most of the patients are either receiving dialysis or are dependent on medication to stabilize their illness. We have been told there is no financial assistance for a transplant for uninsured patients. We find this to be unjust and inhumane. We cannot sit and wait until our loved ones die.”

The fourteen strikers all need either a liver or kidney transplant; they also represent more than 30 other undocumented patients in dire need of a transplant. Despite the severity of their medical condition, they are not demanding transplants, but instead to simply be put on the list and not be discriminated against because of a lack of insurance and immigration status.

Father Jose Landaverde, the contact person for the group, states, “University of Illinois at Chicago is a public institution that calls itself a civic leader, a progressive institution […] and yet they deny treatment to people simply because they are uninsured and simply because they are undocumented. Poor people and those without status are being treated as less than human.”

The group has invited politicians, community members, and medical administrators to hear their list of demands. They will continue to strike until the following demands are met:

  • For politicians and medical administrators to meet with the strikers and support their efforts;
  • For medical administrators and politicians to develop policy that creates state and federal funding that gets undocumented patients the life-saving treatment they need regardless of insurance or immigration status;
  • “For a system to be put in place to evaluate each case and then be placed on a waiting list for a transplant based on need and not legal or financial status;”
  • “A system to be established for affordable medicine for waitlist candidates before and after transplant.”

There are more events planned in the coming days to raise awareness of the hunger strike and spark action. Tomorrow at UIC Medical Center (1740 W. Taylor St, Chicago, IL) there will be a press conference at noon central highlighting the action and the list of demands. Also, as Illinois recently passed legislation that will allow undocumented residents to have driver’s licenses, the strikers will officially announce at the presser their refusal to “be organ donors until everyone can benefit.”

For more information on the hunger strike and upcoming events, visit  the Facebook page of Father Jose Landaverde.

Lauren Taylor contributed reporting. 


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