Over the past week or two, the nation has become enthralled by the story of Sarah Murnaghan, a 10-year-old with end-stage cystic fibrosis. Doctors say that Sarah has only weeks, or possibly days, to live unless she receives a lifesaving lung transplant. The images of Sarah are remarkably gripping as she lies with her friends and parents while on an oxygen machine. Our hearts truly go out to Sarah and her family.
But, the story hasn’t necessarily been centered on Sarah and her wait; rather, news media have focused on the system for organ allocation that is established by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). OPTN guidelines for transplantation are extremely intricate and complex, but one area that has drawn particular attention has to do with the age of potential recipients. To make a long explanation short, OPTN guidelines allow Sarah to receive lungs from a child but restrict her ability to receive a transplant from an adult. This drastically decreases the potential for Sarah to receive a lifesaving transplant.
The media coverage and national discussion surrounding the OPTN rules have created a storm of controversy which has prompted a U.S. District Court Judge to order an exception to the current organ allocation rules to allow Sarah to receive adult lungs if an appropriate match becomes available.
Unfortunately, a relatively small portion of this discussion has focused on the overwhelming need for Americans to register as lifesaving organ and tissue donors. The fact of the matter is that the supply of transplantable organs is vastly insufficient because not enough people say “Yes” to donation. Right now, there are thousands of families across the United States who are desperately waiting – just like Sarah and her family – for a lifesaving transplant. And, unfortunately, many of these families will needlessly lose their loved ones because they did not receive a donated organ in time. This is a problem that we can – and should – fix.
So, if you’re outraged that someone like Sarah may not receive a lifesaving transplant, I’d encourage you to look at your license and reflect on whether or not you’re a registered donor. We can’t help kids – or adults – like Sarah unless all of us take the time and effort to make the selfless decision to help others through organ and tissue donation.
Until then, we will continue to read stories about those waiting and see images of kids and adults barely hanging onto life while hoping for a selfless donor.