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Hospital: Poor health only criteria for pig heart transplant

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In this photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, members of the surgical team show the pig heart for transplant into patient David Bennett in Baltimore on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. On Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 the hospital said that he's doing well three days after the highly experimental surgery. (Mark Teske/University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP)

A Maryland hospital is defending its decision to transplant a pig’s heart into a dying man following reports that the patient had a criminal past, saying his eligibility was “based solely on his medical records.”

David Bennett, 57, is still recovering from last week’s highly experimental transplant, a medical first and a step in the quest to one day ease shortages of human organs by using animals. While the new heart is functioning, it's too soon to know how Bennett will fare.

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that 34 years ago Bennett was charged with a stabbing that left a young man paralyzed. The state’s Division of Corrections told the newspaper that Bennett was released from prison in 1994 after serving six years of a 10-year prison sentence.

In a statement Thursday, the University of Maryland Medical Center said doctors are obligated to provide the best care for every patient regardless of their background.

“This patient came to us in dire need and a decision was made about his transplant eligibility based solely on his medical records,” the hospital said. “This patient made the extraordinary decision to undergo this groundbreaking surgery to not only potentially extend his own life but also for the future benefit of others.”

Bennett’s son, David Bennett Jr., issued a separate statement declining to discuss his father’s past and saying he hoped to focus on “my father’s wish to contribute to the science and potentially to save patient lives in the future.”

The elder Bennett was deemed ineligible for a human heart transplant because of his condition — he had heart failure and an irregular heartbeat.