Medical Ethicist Weighs In On Sarah Murnaghan - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Medical Ethicist Weighs In On Sarah Murnaghan

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Philadelphia, PA -

   
    Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she does not have the power to suspend a policy that prevents a Delaware County girl from getting the adult lung transplant she needs to live.  But the girl's family, the family's lawyers, and several members of Congress all insist Sebelius does have the legal authority to suspend the organ donor policy, so kids like Sarah Murnaghan can get on the adult waiting list right away.  But would it be the right thing to do?  One medical ethicist says it's not so simple.
    Sarah is a 10-year-old with a sweet, innocent face.  How could anyone choose to let her die?  Sarah's parents say that's what will happen unless Sebelius makes the call to suspend the nation's current organ donor policy.  "We don't want her to make an exception for one child," Sarah's Aunt Sharon Ruddock told Fox 29.  "We want her to make an exception for all kids under 12, that if their doctor says they can use adult lungs, that they have a fair shot, an equal shot."
    Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli, a medical ethicist at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, agrees. "I believe she should be in that system with adults, particularly because when you look at a lot of those adults, it's through actions of their own such as smoking, that they're in the need of having a transplant, versus a 10 year old who did nothing and needs that lung."
    But as unfair as the situation may seem for Sarah, suspending the current policy while it's under review may not be fair either, according to Dr. Mazzarelli.  "The lives we're not talking about are the people who don't get a lung, because we've changed the rules to allow these certain individuals in, right?  We have to be careful that we don't so focus on the names that we know, that we don't think about the names that we don't know."  Certainly Sarah's name and story are now familiar locally, and increasingly, nationwide.  "So it becomes very seductive to want to give that resource out to the face that you know needs it versus thinking about what's the most fair system," Dr. Mazzarelli explained.  He does agree the current organ donor policy needs to be reviewed.  But he says that process should happen first, before any changes are made.  "We have to look back at why that rule was made, what technology has changed since that point, and I think it's something that you can probably do in a fairly timely manner, but you really have to think about the overall impact when you start making exceptions to a system that's already set up," Dr. Mazzarelli added.
    Even if the policy is changed in a timely manner, Sarah's family says it won't be in time to save her.  The review process could take as long as two years, and she may only have weeks to live.

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