Federal judge grants temporary restraining order in case of ailing Pa. girl in need of lung

By Jon Campisi | Jun 6, 2013

A federal judge in Philadelphia has gotten involved in the case of a Delaware County child who has made national headlines in recent weeks when it was discovered that she might not be immediately eligible to receive a donated lung because of her young age, a case that has stirred controversy over a federal policy saying organs should go first to ailing patients 12 years of age or older.

In a June 5 order filed at the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson granted a temporary restraining order sought by Janet and Francis Murnaghan, the Newtown Square, Pa. couple who claims their 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, may soon die due to her cystic fibrosis if she doesn’t receive a new lung.

The couple takes issue with the so-called “Under 12 Rule,” which they say discriminates against children in desperate need of organ transplantation surgeries.

The federal rule requires that lungs coming from adult donors first be offered to waiting list patients 12 and older before being offered to younger children such as Sarah Murnaghan, whom the parents claim has only weeks to live because of her disease.

The couple filed a lawsuit this week arguing that the “Under 12 Rule” violates parts of the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984.

They assert that the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network discriminates against children under 12, and that a lung transplant would surely save her life it the operation took place sooner rather than later.

The plaintiffs also claim that U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s refusal to set aside the Under 12 Rule in young Sarah’s case is discriminatory, and “serves no purpose, is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.”

Media reports in recent days have told of the refusal on the part of Sebelius to get directly involved in the local matter.

In his ruling, Baylson ordered Sebelius to immediately cease application of the Under 12 Rule as to Murnaghan’s case so the girl could be considered for receipt of donated lungs from adults based on the medical severity of her condition.

Baylson additional set a hearing on the plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction request for June 14 in his courtroom at the federal courthouse in downtown Philadelphia.

In a statement issued to local media, Sarah’s parents praised Baylson’s decision to issue the temporary restraining order, saying they are experiencing “many emotions: relief, happiness, gratitude and, for the first time in months: hope,” according to a report this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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