Ripley: The Government Moves Too Slow to Save Lives

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10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan is in a precarious situation. She has battled cystic fibrosis since she was born and is now in the end-stage of this terminal disease. Sarah is next in line for pediatric lungs that become available within her region, however that does not happen often. Her 18 month wait has not led to a donor and her time is running out as her own lungs continue to weaken. Without a transplant, young Sarah will die within a matter of weeks.

The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, says that she cannot intervene in transplant decisions and cannot move Sarah to the adult list of donors. Federal policy currently sets the minimum age for her to be on list at 12. Mrs. Sebelius has called for a review of the policy, but the process requires public input and hearings that could take years to complete. Sarah does not have that kind of time.

“The worst of all worlds, in my mind, is to have some individual pick and choose who lives and who dies,” Mrs. Sebelius said, as reported by the Washington Examiner. “I think you want a process where it’s guided by medical science and medical experts.”

I could not agree more with Mrs. Sebelius.  If we had a process guided by medical science and medical experts, young Sarah would not be facing almost certain death. Unfortunately, this process is guided by policy created by the Department of Health and Human Services and the program’s management is contracted to an organization of bureaucrats.

“Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN) allocation policy is applied consistently to allow all candidates an equitable opportunity to receive a transplant, recognizing that their individual medical needs and circumstances will vary,” the release continues. “In some circumstances, a transplant center may determine that a child’s condition warrants a reduced size transplant from an adult donor. If the center wishes to consider this additional treatment option, these children will have access to adult organs once they are offered to adolescents and adults in the same allocation zone.”

It is the sound medical judgment of Sarah’s doctors that adult lungs could be used to save her life. The OPTN is discriminating against her ability to receive a transplant based on her age.  This denies Sarah the right to compete for organs in a fair and equitable way and completely disregards the urgency of her situation. The government does not move fast enough to account for special cases and alternative techniques that do not fit within their current policies. Sarah never had a chance.

“It tugs at my heart. It’s not a perfect system. There is no perfect system. It’s the best we can do right now,” said Dr. Stuart Sweet, a board member of United Network of Organ Sharing told CBS Philadelphia.

Let’s be clear, there isn’t a government death panel making life and death decisions as people like Sarah Palin would have you believe. Her rhetoric about the boogeyman and faceless bureaucrats is meant to excite and inflame, not solve.  Palin’s knee jerk solutions of changing the rules for Sarah Murnaghan also fails the test of fairness and equity.

“If I change the system to give Sarah an advantage, there’s another patient, very likely an adolescent, who then gets a disadvantage,” explained Dr. Sweet.

The folly of the situation is one that Libertarians and proponents of small government are all too familiar with:  the law of unintended consequences. Ron Paul and other have warned us over the years that as the government takes a larger role in our lives that unintended and negative consequences can and will happen. The government cannot change health policies fast enough to keep up advances in knowledge and technology. Because of this, Sarah Murnaghan will not see her 11th birthday.

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Ryan Ripley is a 34 year old husband and father of two living in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University with a BS in Business Administration. Prior to joining the Libertarian Party, Ryan unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Marshall County Council in 2010 and on the Plymouth Common Council in 2011 as a Democrat. During that time he also served as the acting Chairman of the Marshall County Democratic Party. Ryan is on Twitter (@ryanripley) and can be reached at

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