Ten year old Sarah Murnaghan of Newtown Pa. has been hospitalized for the last three months with end stage cystic fibrosis. She needs a lung transplant to live but organ donation rules require adult lungs to be offered first to people over the age of 12. 

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In fact if Sarah were 12 years old, she would rank near the top of the adult lung transplant list. But as a 10-year-old, she must wait longer: A waiting-list policy states that adult transplant recipients be given preference before children under 12. Murnaghan’s parents have asked that HHS waive the policy in their daughter’s case.


The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services says she doesn’t want to intervene in transplant decisions. Kathleen Sebelius says medical experts should make those decisions. Sebelius has called for a review of transplant policies, but the Murnaghans says Sarah doesn’t have time for that.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a former doctor and one of the Republican Party’s most active House members on health policy, told Sebelius. “It simply takes your signature,”

Price said the policy review will take “a year” to complete—too long to be of any help to Sarah Murnaghan.

“This young lady will be dead,” Price said.

Sebelius has spoken with Janet Murnaghan, Sarah’s mother, she said. The HHS secretary defended her resistance to moving Sarah to the top of the list, saying she defers to a committee of surgeons and health-care providers to determine the transplant policy. Sebelius said she has looked “very carefully” at the history of the policy.

“I can’t imagine anything more difficult,” Sebelius said.

“Unfortunately, there are about 40 seriously ill Pennsylvanians over the age of 12 also waiting for a lung transplant,” Sebelius said. There are also other children at the same hospital where Sarah Murnaghan is being treated.

In a contentious exchange with Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Lou Barletta, Sebelius acknowledged that Murnaghan’s transplant request is an “incredibly agonizing situation where someone lives and someone dies.”

“I’m begging you. Sarah has three to five weeks to live,” Barletta said. “Time is running out. Please suspend the rules until we look at this policy, which we all believe is flawed.”


Barletta said that in Sarah’s case, an adult lung transplant would likely save her life, meaning there is no medical reason she should take lower priority than someone two years older.

There is “so much bullcrap around this place, and we have the chance to save someone’s life–there’s no logic to this,” an agitated Barletta said, as he and Sebelius at times talked over each other

Should ten-year-old Sarah be denied a lung because she’s not an adult? Discuss below.