Kathleen Sebelius at center of storm over child’s lung transplant

by
June 5, 2013

The plight of a dying 10-year-old girl in urgent need of a lung transplant has been taken up by some GOP lawmakers, and it’s shining a light on what critics say is a questionable policy that puts children further down the waiting list.

The family of the Pennsylvania girl, Sarah Murnaghan, has garnered the media spotlight, on cable news and in other outlets. And some GOP congressmen have joined the fray, quite literally “begging” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to intervene and save the girl’s life. Both Pennsylvania senators — a Democrat and a Republican — have also written on the child’s behalf.

“I’m begging you,” Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) told Sebelius at a House hearing Tuesday morning, asking her to suspend the transplant rules until they can be revisited. “Sarah has three to five weeks to live. Time is running out.” The child has cystic fibrosis.

At the hearing, Sebelius called the situation “agonizing” and said she had talked to the girl’s mother. She has ordered a review of the policy, which she acknowledged would take too long to have any impact on this girl’s situation, but said it wasn’t her place to pick and choose transplant recipients.

“I can’t imagine anything worse than one individual getting to pick who lives and who dies,” she said. Sebelius said putting Sarah next in line would disadvantage other young people who have also been waiting for transplants — including three in the same area. Helping one child could possibly hurt another.

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