There are 75,660 active patients waiting for a transplant in the U.S., according to the the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Some will never make it to the top of the list.
That was the worry of the parents of 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan, who is dying of end-stage cystic fibrosis and is waiting for a transplant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Murnaghan made headlines this week when her parents filed a lawsuit to change the existing transplant policy that says kids under 12 must wait for pediatric lungs to become available. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson ruled that Murnaghan should be placed on the adult waiting list for a lung.
The story highlighted the frustration of families waiting for organ transplants and the ethical issues involved with giving priority to certain patients. Dr. Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University Langone Medical Center, told the Associated Press he worries the ruling sets a bad precedent for patients to run to the court if they don’t like their spot on the waiting list.
Despite pleas from several Pennsylvania congressmen and heavy press, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen refused to get involved in the case since there were three other kids at the hospital in the same condition.
The grim reality is that due to the shortage of organ donors, many people are forced to wait months and even years for a chance at a transplant. Too often, they don’t survive that long. Even when they do, it’s not uncommon for their body to reject the new organ.
But there have also been several breakthroughs in transplants in recent years. In 2010, the world saw the first full-face transplant. Meanwhile, scientists are working to combat the problems that face people with organ failure worldwide. Here are some of the innovations changing the future of organ transplants and providing hope that one day, organ failure will not feel like a death sentence.