Sick children under 12 years old needing a lung transplant, and who were previously almost totally dependent on lung donations from other children, can now have broader access to donated organs from adults, thanks to a new decision from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). Adolescent donation protocol will now be based on the seriousness of the patient’s disease state and not on their age.
According to an article published on The Kansas City Star, the new rule comes a year after a controversy involving an 11 year old child, Sarah Murnaghan, who is suffering from end-stage cystic fibrosis. The previous “under-12” rule donor regulations stipulated that younger children wouldn’t be considered first on the list to receive adult lungs.
There are, however, opponents to the new rule, who question the fairness of changing established rules because of one child, as reported by NBC.
Sarah’s parents started a legal fight to prevent this rule from being applied to their daughter, and last year a court decided that Sarah should be considered for the adult list, as it was her only chance to survive even though a transplant wouldn’t cure her disease.
Cystic Fibrosis is the main cause of lung transplantation in children, although it doesn’t represent a cure. Still, it allows them to gain more time to wait for other breakthroughs in medicine.
Sarah has received two transplants, one failed and the other a success, and she can now breathe on her own and is able to participate in some children’s activities. To her parents, the legal process was “the absolute last resort” and “the right thing to do.”
In reaction to the announcement of the OPTN, the Murnaghans offered their thanks to the medical community for changing the rules.
To the secretary of the transplant network, Dr. Stuart Sweet, “any allocation policy must weigh the unique needs and circumstances of transplant candidates with the benefit a transplant can provide them,” he said. Adding that when it comes to children this balance isn’t always easy to achieve as “the progression of their lung disease may be considerably different from other patients, even those just a few years older.”
According to the OPTN, the lung transplant issue affects about 20 children each year. Since Sarah’s case, a dozen children asked to be included also in adult list, but most of them still match other children donors.