Steph Martin

Stephanie Martin, a writer and editor in Colorado, has two teenage daughters.

Newtown Square, Penn.—Shortly after a judge’s ruling moved Sarah Murnaghan onto the adult transplant list, the 10-year-old received a portion of adult donor lungs. The cystic fibrosis patient, who reportedly had weeks to live, now has a second chance at life.

“God is great! He moved the mountain!” posted Sarah’s mom, Janet Murnaghan.

Sarah’s family and friends had demanded an exception to rules that prevent children under 12 from accessing adult organs. More than 372,000 people signed an online petition directed at Dr. John Roberts, president of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

“Children should be at the top of the list,” wrote one petitioner.

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Based on years of statistics, UNOS sets rules for each type of transplant, based on organ availability and success rates. An algorithm ranks wait-listed patients according to age and severity of condition. For lungs, which are difficult to transplant, kids under 12 can get adult organs only if no adult can use them, which is rare.

Lawyers for Sarah’s family argued that the policy is a form of age discrimination.

Roberts admitted setting an age cutoff is tough. “You draw a line. It’s going to be somewhat of an arbitrary line. Should a 17 year old have more access than a 19 year old?” The doctor added, “Society wants us to give priority to kids, but is it fair that they have more access than a young adult with three kids who is the primary breadwinner?”

One thing medical experts agree on is that courts shouldn’t step in to determine who gets organs. “People will do about anything to get a heart or lungs or liver or pancreas,” said transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Higgins. “The rules are intended to help make the system equitable and treat folks fairly so that everybody has a chance at a lifesaving organ.”

More than 113,000 Americans are currently on transplant lists. Each day, 19 die before they can receive an organ.

Sources: latimes.com, npr.org, thenationalnetworkoforgandonors.org

Discussion Questions:

  • What’s your reaction to a 10 year old side-stepping the rules to receive adult lungs? How do you feel about the process that led to Sarah’s transplant?
  • If you were an adult waiting for lungs and a judge ruled that a child could move ahead of you, how would you react, and why?
  • If your loved one needed a life-saving transplant, to what lengths would you go to ensure that he or she received an organ? Would you abide by established rules, wait, and pray, or would you try to fight the system and force people to make an exception? Explain.
  • In your opinion, should children of all ages be priority recipients of hard-to-come-by organs? Why or why not? Are children inherently more special or valuable, just because they potentially have more of their life ahead of them? Explain.
  • Who should make (and be allowed to overrule) transplant decisions? If you were in charge of UNOS, what types of guidelines would you set? How would you deal with angry or upset people who couldn’t get the organs they or their loved one needed?
  • Are you an organ donor—or do you plan to be listed as one? If not, what’s preventing you from making that decision? If you’re a minor, what would you tell your family members to convince them to donate your organs?
  • What views might God, our Creator, have on the topic of organ donation?
  • What are some “mountains” that you’ve been waiting for God to move in your life? What steps might you need to take to be part of a solution? By contrast, what might you need to let go of in order to more fully trust in God’s plan?

Scripture links: Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19; Matthew 25:40; John 11:1-6, 38-44; John 15:12-13; 1 Corinthians 15:35-49; James 2:8-9.

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