A federal judge has ordered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to make an exception to lung transplant rules and add 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan to the adult lung transplant list so doctors may be able to save her life. Sebelius initially declined the request.
Since child lung transplants are rarely available, Murnaghan, who has cystic fibrosis, had little chance of survival, and only three to five weeks to live, if she had not been allowed to be on the list for an adult lung transplant.
The case has drawn national attention. At a Tuesday House hearing, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) pleaded with Sebelius to make an exception for Murnaghan and allow her to be on the adult list.
"I would suggest, sir, that, again, this is an incredibly agonizing situation where someone lives and someone dies," Sebelius answered. "The medical evidence and the transplant doctors who are making the rule – and have had the rule in place since 2005 making a delineation between pediatric and adult lungs, because lungs are different than other organs – that it's based on the survivability."
Murnaghan's doctors have said, though, they now have the ability to transplant an adult lung to their patient, an ability they did not have when the current transplant policy, which says those under 12 can only receive child lung transplants, was put in place.
"I can't imagine anything worse than one individual getting to pick who lives and who dies," Sebelius added at the hearing.
Sebelius failed "to protect the very few children nationally who are subject to" the existing rule on lung transplants, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson wrote in the temporary restraining order.
Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who used to be a physician, warned Wednesday on Fox News' "Special Report" that there are important ethical dilemmas that need to be considered in the case.
"I'm so dismayed," he said, "in America the first resort is to make everything a legal question. The legal stuff here is irrelevant, what is relevant is the medical ethics. If she gets a lung, somebody else is not going to get a lung. Let's say it's an 18-year-old. Is the reason for the rule that she has much less of a chance of having a successful transplant than the 18-year-old who will be deprived of it? ... It would be immoral to give it to her and not to him."