The recent death of Gary Reinbach, the 22-year-old alcoholic who died from chronic cirrhosis of the liver, made me incredibly sad. I myself am 22, and he must have felt like he had barely been able to live before life was very suddenly snatched away from him.
The great debate that has of course ensued is whether or not it was right that he was refused a liver transplant.
He was not given one because official guidelines state that in order to be eligible for a transplant, a patient must be able to prove they can be abstinent outside hospital. By the time Gary realised he needed a transplant, he was far too ill to even attempt leaving a hospital.
He had drunk himself into cirrhosis of the liver, therefore he was refused the right to a transplant. But what about the mental suffering he must have been going through to end up in such a state, at such a young age? Is this completely irrelevant when deciding whether or not someone deserves another shot at life?
The story of Gary’s childhood is sad in itself. As a child who had shown such promise and talent up until the age of 13, who was particularly talented at Tae Kwon Do, his life seemed to fall apart when his parents split up. His mother moved away from his father, taking Gary and his two younger brothers with her.
She had to work full time to provide for them, leaving her three children to fend for themselves each day. Gary’s relationship with his father seems to have been delicate at best. Before Gary died, his father has said that they “hadn’t spoken for two years”.
This is the point when things seem to have fallen apart for Gary, and it was a circumstance that he had no control over.
I’m not entirely blaming his parents for what happened. That would be naive; in such a tragic case, things are always far more complicated than they necessarily appear to be to an outsider. But I don’t think Gary can be blamed for what happened to him.
And there was not only a lack of support from his parents. He was expelled and pushed aside by his school, his drinking-buddy ‘friends’ appear to have only exacerbated his problem, and there is a distinct lack of presence from Social Services or any other similar support or charity in this young man’s lonely story.
Right up until his death, it seems as though Gary had never been given the support and help he’d desperately needed. It therefore makes me feel saddened that even in his last chance at a fight for life, in the form of a liver transplant, he was again ignored and rejected.
This isn’t good enough. We can’t pick and chose who we save. People have reasons for becoming alcoholics to this extent. Gary wasn’t just some hell-raising teenager, getting drunk on a Saturday night and starting fights in clubs. He was an incredibly troubled young man who couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning without half a bottle of vodka. To me, such a vulnerable, unlucky soul is certainly the type of person who we should do everything we can to help and to save as a society.