Update on Tanner Donaldson, the 9-Year-Old in Need of a Kidney Transplant

In late February 2022, we introduced you to a 9-year-old boy in Ohio, Tanner Donaldson, who needs a kidney transplant due to his stage 5 chronic kidney disease. Despite the fact that his father, Dane Donaldson, was a match for Tanner and they were pre-approved to move forward with the transplant surgery, Cleveland Children’s Hospital recently reversed course and denied Tanner’s transplant after Dane indicated he could not receive a COVID-19 vaccine due to his sincerely held religious beliefs—this despite the fact that Dane has natural immunity to COVID-19.

In January 2022, ICAN’s attorneys got involved and wrote a letter to the bioethics director at the hospital demanding that it abide by its duty to “Do no harm” and reconsider its denial.  On March 23, 2022, ICAN’s attorneys sent a follow-up letter to the same director as well as the chief legal officer and the chief integrity officer at the hospital.  In that letter, ICAN’s attorneys informed the hospital that, unfortunately, Tanner’s condition deteriorated significantly in the past two months to the point that Tanner had been forced to seek emergency treatment. Appallingly, despite having treated this child for 9 years, there was no effort made by his physicians or the hospital to reach out to the Donaldsons—not even by Tanner’s longtime nephrologist.  As a result, Tanner has been left without a nephrologist and has only his pediatrician to manage his complicated medical condition.

The callousness of this institution is truly astounding.  But as cruel as its actions are, they are all the more shocking in light of the grave professional and legal consequences they are risking in enforcing this policy.  As ICAN’s attorneys pointed out in the letter, those physicians who are complicit in enforcing the hospital’s vaccination policy are risking disciplinary action against their medical licenses since physicians are legally required to uphold the minimum standard of care.  Conditioning a child’s life-saving treatment on his father’s receipt of a medical product that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs is directly contrary to these physicians’ legal and ethical duties under Ohio law as well as their professional responsibility to “regard responsibility to the patient as paramount” and to “support access to medical care for all people.”

Significantly, in enforcing this policy, the hospital itself is violating its duty under Ohio law to provide accommodation to all persons regardless of their religious beliefs; jeopardizing its legal duty to maintain a membership with the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network; and putting its Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Certification at risk for regulatory noncompliance.

Unfortunately, Tanner’s situation is hardly unique and so ICAN cannot ignore this growing issue.  ICAN intends to shine a spotlight on this hospital and spread the word about its unconscionable, unscientific, and inhuman policies in order hold these medical institutions accountable.

We encourage you to read the letter in full here and to share Tanner’s story widely. You can watch a recent interview with the Donaldsons on the HighWire here.