Most of us have heard the heartbreaking story of the Murnaghan family's struggle to get their 10-year old daughter Sarah a life-saving lung transplant due to her age. Her family wants children younger than 12 to be eligible for adult lungs because so few pediatric lungs are available. Under current policy, only patients 12 and over can join the list. But Sarah's transplant doctors say she is medically eligible for an adult lung.
The child has been hospitalized at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia for three months with end-stage cystic fibrosis. Late on Wednesday afternoon, federal judge, Michael Baylson, issued a ten days temporary restraining order that will allow Sarah to be added to the adult transplant list. The restraining order tells the Secretary of Health and Human Services to cease application of the “Under 12” rule relating to Sarah’s case.
The U.S Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had refused to bypass existing protocols relating to the case, despite plea from the parents and congressmen. She called the transplant decision about this dying Pennsylvania girl with about three to five weeks to live “incredibly agonizing.”. The secretary noted that three other children in the same hospital are just as sick. She told a congressional panel Tuesday that many complex factors go into the transplant-list formula and that medical experts should make those decisions. However, she also called for a review of the pediatric transplant policies.
According to a statement from the Murnaghan family this action by the court will allow Sarah’s name to be placed in the queue based on the severity of her case and not her age.. They noted, "We are experiencing many emotions: relief, happiness, gratitude and, for the first time in months: hope."
We need to pray for the many ethics committees and medical professionals that must make these decisions every day across the country. They need our prayers for wisdom and discretion. Theirs is an incredibly difficult task because needs always outstrip availability.
Despite the ruling, Sarah is not guaranteed new lungs, just a chance at getting them. If you faced a similar situation, how would you feel? What action would you take? Would you want the court to intervene in your child’s case or leave the issue to the medical professionals? Are there ethical issues that should be considered?