Camapaign to change organ donation policy for children makes lasting impact

A year after Sarah Murnaghan’s parents successfully campaigned for her to receive an adult lung transplant, the group that manages organ transplant policy has permanently changed a rule to allow some children to be considered for adult lung transplants. The parents of Murnaghan, who has cystic fibrosis and diabetes from CF, successfully sued for their […]

A year after Sarah Murnaghan’s parents successfully campaigned for her to receive an adult lung transplant, the group that manages organ transplant policy has permanently changed a rule to allow some children to be considered for adult lung transplants.

The parents of Murnaghan, who has cystic fibrosis and diabetes from CF, successfully sued for their then 10 year old daughter to be allowed onto the waiting list for adult patients. They had protested that organ transplant policy for children under 12 amounted to age discrimination. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius refused to grant an exception to the rule.

The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network had granted a temporary exception to the rule following the lawsuit. The board voted to make that change permanent this week, according to media reports.

Reuters referenced a statement from board member Stuart Sweet:

“Any allocation policy must weigh the unique needs and circumstances of transplant candidates with the benefit a transplant can provide them,” said Sweet, secretary of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network’s board of directors.

Previously child candidates for donated lungs fell into one of two categories, according to USA Today. Adolescents (12 to 18 years old) and pediatrics (under 12). Adolescent child candidates tended to be prioritized because they could qualify for child and adult sized donations. Murnaghan was treated at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The case rocked the delicate ethical debates that surround organ transplants, particularly because it made the ethical debate of organ donation into an even more emotionally charged issue, amplified by social media. Although it’s hard to take emotion out of the equation of organ donation,especially when the debate shifts to children. At the same time, it’s impossible to change this policy without impacting others. For every child that makes it onto the adult transplant list, that’s one adult who may not get one and whose loved ones who see them as no less special.

[Photo credit: Photo of lungs from flickr user dynna17]