June 9, 2013
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has to be the most coldhearted person in America.
Sarah Murnaghan, a 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl, has end-stage cystic fibrosis. She is on a ventilator and will die in about a month without a lung transplant.
Doctors say Sarah’s best hope for survival would be to go on the waiting list for adult lungs rather than continue on the list for pediatric lungs.
Unfortunately for Sarah, there is something informally called the Under-12 rule, which says that children under 12 cannot receive adult organs unless adults and teens in their region refuse them first. She has been on the pediatric list since 2011 to no avail.
Nationally, about 1,700 people are waiting for lung transplants, including 31 children 10 and younger, according to Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network data. In Region 2, Sarah’s region, 222 people are waiting for lung transplants, including six children 10 and younger.
However, Sebelius has the power to waive the rules when she wishes.
In the case of Sarah, however, Sebelius refused to allow the 10-year-old to receive a life-saving lung. Sebelius would rather cling to some arbitrary rule drawing an arbitrary line than save the life of a 10-year-old girl.
This should sicken every American.
Lest you think I am being too harsh on Sebelius — after all, you might argue, maybe there is a sound medical reason for her thinking — her only stated reason for being so uncaring is, basically, rules are rules. She claimed that if she issued a waiver for Sarah, then it would no longer be the doctors making medical decisions.
However, that is patently false, because the doctors are not making the decision now, she is. Doctors have already said her best hope is for an adult lung. Sebelius rejected the doctors and several members of Congress who have pleaded with her to issue the exception.
Fortunately for Sarah, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Baylson ordered Kathleen Sebelius to direct the OPTN to make an exception to the Under-12 rule as it applies to Sarah for 10 days, until a hearing on Friday.
That move means that the girl can be considered more quickly for organs as an adult, instead of being limited to the pediatric transplant list. Her family is hopeful that the 10 days she will spend on the list will be enough for her to receive a life-saving lung, making the Friday hearing moot.
Clearly the rule is too arbitrary and has very little to do with medical science. If doctors determine a child would benefit from an adult lung, then the child should go on the list based on the severity of his or her condition rather than the child’s age.
But there is a deeper lesson here.
Death panels, anyone?
This is exactly the kind of thing Obamacare will be turning over to federal bureaucrats. We have, as a people, literally given the power over life and death to government functionaries.
And those decisions are being made based on regulations rather than medical science. Even if the regulations were made by doctors and other health professionals — as is the case with the Under-12 rule — the implementation and decisions based on those regulations are made by bureaucrats driven by priorities other than your well-being.
In light of the recent IRS scandal, would it be so hard to believe that bureaucrats will base health decisions on the politics of the person seeking the medical procedure? Or, perhaps, a person’s importance or level of wealth?
Regardless of your political leanings, can you honestly say you are comfortable giving government functionaries the power over whether you live or die?
Sarah and the 30 other children under 12 who are waiting for lungs, are living — or should that be dying — proof that taking medical decisions out of the hands of doctors and placing them into the hands of untrained bureaucrats is a recipe for disaster.
Fortunately for Sarah, Baylson injected some common sense into the mix and possibly saved her life. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to do so for the rest of us if that time comes.