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Are We Taking Going Green Too Far: Recycling Pacemakers--Editorial

By Blogger
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I grew up on a West Texas cattle ranch and darling, I knew how to conserve and be “green” long before it became a popular politically correct lifestyle choice. Normally, when people talk about going green, I’ve got no problem. If someone wants a house with solar power, then hey, I’m no “green” fanatic but I say go for it; get off the grid and put the money back in your pocket. (My dream house is still one which is solar and wind powered so I never have to pay an electric bill again.) But, every once in a while, I hear a “green” idea being promoted which makes me take a step back and ask “What are you smoking in that pipe?”

The issue that caused my southern sensibilities to hackle up and take notice is the concept of recycling pacemakers. Now, pacemakers are really useful devices that save lives. Implanted in your chest, pacemakers help to regulate your heartbeat. They operate off a battery that lasts about five to seven years (must be a little pink Energizer bunny battery). Since they’re implanted in your chest, they remain in place until surgically removed. Of course, the condition that caused you to need a pacemaker in the first place isn’t likely to go away so once you have a pacemaker, you’re in it for life (no pun intended).

Pacemakers can be expensive. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, the cost for an outpatient pacemaker implantation is about $2,000 plus the cost of a pacemaker. (I did find a place on Google that sells “discount” pacemakers for $5,400 but not certain I’d want the bargain-basement version keeping the rhythm for me.) If you’re unlucky enough to need an inpatient procedure (that is, an overnight stay in the hospital), then be prepared to go ahead and have the heart attack and get it over with while you’re there. Why? Because, the inpatient fees for a pacemaker are a sin. Estimates for inpatient procedure ranged from $45,000 to $60,000 U.S. dollars. (Now, do you see why I said the fees were a sin? Good night nurse! I could do a heck of a remodel for that kind of dough.) Even with insurance, these fees can be hard to swallow or pay for.

About three million people worldwide currently have pacemakers.

Add a Comment4 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I have visions of recycled underwear.

November 7, 2010 - 6:22pm
Blogger (reply to Anonymous)

:-) Great visual description that sums it up perfectly!

November 9, 2010 - 11:15pm
EmpowHER Guest

I am sure that you are squeamish about this sort of recycling. But, as you say, there are from thousands to millions who cannot afford a pacemaker under the current plan. So, for them, it is recycled or DEATH. That choice might make part of the choice simpler for them to make.

Now, as for them having been inside another living creature, there are a couple of things to say about that. There are millions of folks living with transplanted pieces of either living or dead people inside them: if you add to that the folks who have had blood from live folks put inside them, the number climbs precipitously.

The other is that lots of people TOUCHED and HANDLED the pieces of the pacemaker before the first person had it inserted. It may have been sneezed on or other dirt may have encrusted it. That is cleaned off before the first implant. They will do that same for the second implant...and on, and on....

I'm sorry that you have the phobia about this recycling. For others who ACTUALLY face the choice, this may be the necessary path.

November 6, 2010 - 11:25pm
Blogger (reply to Anonymous)

First, thank you so much for writing. I completely understand your point of view and appreciate your tolerance of mine as well. I don't have insurance (at 1K a month, who can afford it?) so well understand the challenges faced by those who may need treatments, procedures, or medicines but have finite resources available to meet medical needs.

As indicated above, I understand that the doctors are trying to do a good thing and I do not fault them for that at all. One of my concerns, which perhaps isn't so clear in the article, is the concept that we're giving USED parts (which are not of the same quality as new) to the poor - and that doesn't feel good to pass of seconds to them. (I have visions of going to a salvage yard to get bargain parts for your car only only to have to replace the part again two months down the road because the used part simply isn't the same quality as new and doesn't hold up. Maybe I spent $10 for a $20 part but if I have to replace it again in two months, what have I saved?) I can envision a new industry built around recycling pacemakers - and abuse arising out of this as well, possibly at the expense of the very persons the concept is designed to help. Even the doctors proposing this admit that the issues are not all that cut and dried and raise moral and ethic concerns. I guess in the end, time will tell whether this is ultimately a good thing or not.

November 9, 2010 - 11:14pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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