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Letter: The case of Sarah reveals a broken health system

The case of Sarah reveals a broken health system

Almost daily, the broadcast and print media report stories of tragedy and heartache. Some cases are so deeply disturbing that one is left wondering how or why such situations are possible. We find ourselves wishing that somehow we could alleviate that person’s or family’s suffering, but often we are faced with the realization that it is beyond our power to help.

Recently, The News carried the story of 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. According to her doctors, without a lung transplant Sarah had few precious weeks to live. As I understand it, there is a stipulation within the guidelines governing donors and transplant recipients that precludes a patient of 12 years or under from receiving adult lungs. This regardless of the fact that doctors could indeed successfully transplant adult lungs in Sarah.

So, why not implant donor lungs from children? Because the availability of donor lungs from children is considerably less than that from adult donors. Sarah’s chances for life were growing dimmer with each passing day. Devastated and desperate, and unwilling to accept this cruel prognosis, Sarah’s parents ultimately petitioned Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, asking that she lift the adult/child transplant restriction.

Sebelius held the power to approve the life and death request made by Sarah’s parents. Instead, she hemmed and hawed and promised to research the issue. Complete nonsense! Thank God for the judge whose decision will most likely give life to Sarah. She received new lungs from an adult donor at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Is this a test case? Clearly, Sarah’s predicament was critical, hers was a matter of life or death. Sarah’s need was compelling, her parents were crying out for help and the head of health care in America responded not humanely but coldly and bureaucratically. What should the American citizen expect from a new health care program that is demonstrably insensitive to human suffering? Recall Shakespeare’s words, “The quality of mercy is not strained.” Wanna bet?

Nicholas D. Mecca