Health Law

Federal judge suspends transplant rules in case of dying girl

A federal judge has temporarily suspended transplant rules in the case of a 10-year-old girl who may soon die if she doesn’t receive new lungs.

U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson of Philadelphia granted a 10-day temporary restraining order (PDF) suspending rules that put children under age 12 at the bottom of the waiting list for transplants of adult lungs, report the Associated Press, Bloomberg News and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Children are also on a waiting list for pediatric lungs, which are donated less often.

Baylson acted in the case of Sarah Murnaghan of Newtown Square, Pa., who is hospitalized at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with end-stage cystic fibrosis. She has been on the waiting list for pediatric lungs for 18 months. As a result of Baylson’s order, Murnaghan will temporaily be placed on the adult waiting list ahead of those with less severe illness.

“We are beyond thrilled,” Murnaghan’s mother, Janet Murnaghan, told AP. “Obviously we still need a match.”

Baylson will hold a hearing on a request for a preliminary injunction on June 14.

Health and Human Services Secretary Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Congress on Tuesday that she wasn’t prepared to sign a waiver in Murnaghan’s case because there are other children needing lungs who are just as sick, including three in Philadelphia. At the hearing on Wednesday, Baylson said he would consider expanding his order to another child in Murnaghan’s circumstances if the request is made, according to the Inquirer.

Dr. Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University Langone Medical Center, told AP that Baylson’s order is troubling. One reason for the existing policy, he said, is that children don’t fare as well as adults in lung transplants. “I’m not sure I want judges or congressmen or bureaucrats trying to decide what to do with organs at the bedside,’’ Caplan said. He also said the case could encourage others who don’t like their place on the waiting list to go to court.

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