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Federal Judge Grants TRO, OK's Kids For Organ Transplant

By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 10, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A girl with cystic fibrosis has a fighting chance for an organ transplant, after a federal judge in Pennsylvania issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday, allowing the family to place the girl on the adult organ donation list, reports Reuters.

Sarah Murnaghan, 10, isn't the only one receiving judicial intervention, as Javier Acosta, 11, was also granted a temporary injunction by Judge Michael Baylson to waive the federal law limiting the lion's share of transplants to ages 12 and over, reports The Washington Times.

What about the federal organ transplant guidelines did Judge Baylson find offensive?

Children in Need of Lungs

Both Sarah and Javier are both suffering from cystic fibrosis, a disease that killed Javier's older brother and without a lung transplant may soon kill both of them, reports NBC News.

Responding to the urgency of the situation, Judge Baylson issued a TRO on Wednesday prohibiting the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from enforcing the 12 year age limit that would deny Sarah access to the transplant list, reports Bloomberg.

A similar TRO was issued on Thursday granting Javier access to the transplant list.

TRO Forces HHS' Hand

HHS Secretary Sebelius argued before Congress that giving waivers for particular cases is a dangerous precedent, as there are many sick children waiting for a lung transplant, not just Sarah and Javier, reports Bloomberg.

It's an unenviable position, and as Sebelius told House Republicans on Tuesday, she doesn't want to "pick and choose who lives and dies," reports NBC News.

Unfortunately for her, the TROs require her to do just that, although Judge Baylson's rulings only have effect in his jurisdiction, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which is good news for East-Pennsylvania-located Javier and Sarah.

OPTN Age Policy

The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network is an arm of the HHS tasked with effectively and fairly distributing organs in the U.S. Their policies differ based on the organ involved, but in the case of lungs, patients receive a priority score based on the urgency of their case and post-transplant survival outlook, but only if they are 12 years of age or older.

Appealing the TRO

The TRO restricting the HHS from enforcing this policy is likely not available for direct appeal, as the Third Circuit has frowned on appealing TROs that are severely limited in duration, and Judge Baylson's order is only good for 10 days.

Judge Baylson could choose to grant a more permanent injunction if 10 days isn't enough for the children to be lined up with some lungs, and that may spark some appeals to the higher courts.

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