Pennsylvania court case on organ donation guidelines put on hold

A longstanding transplant policy states that children under 12 are only eligible for lungs from a child donor, not from adults. Dr. Jon LaPook shares the plight of 10- year-old Sarah Murnaghan, whose life depends on receiving a lung transplant.

A judge has put a court hearing regarding adult organ donation rules for younger children on pause, after the Philadelphia girl who was the center of the lawsuit received a lung transplant.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson canceled Friday's hearing. However, he reserved the right to pick up the case again for Sarah Murnaghan or another Philadelphia patient who sued, 11-year-old Javier Acosta of New York.

Ten-year-old Sarah is recovering after receiving lungs from an adult donor at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Her parents filed a lawsuit on her behalf over current national transplant rules that made her virtually ineligible for adult lungs.

Currently, people aged 12 and older who need an adult organ transplant are ranked in order of need. Because Sarah was under the age limit, she would have to wait behind everyone else who had her same blood type -- regardless of their condition -- before she would be considered.

Sarah, who has end-stage cystic fibrosis, only had weeks to live before her life-saving transplant, her parents claim. She was on the top of the pediatric transplant list, but donors in that group are very rare. Last year, there were more than 1,700 lungs available, but only 20 came from donors over 11 years old.

Baylson stepped in on Sarah's behalf. She underwent a successful transplant procedure on Wednesday.

However, doctors are debating whether or not allowing younger children to access adult organs is a smart move. Lung transplants have a failure rate of 50 percent within five years, and transplants in pediatric patients are less studied, leading to more medical uncertainty. Bioethicists argue that the organs should be given to the people with the most chance for success.

"It would be very difficult that this system has to respond for individual pleas for help," Dr. Margaret Moon, a pediatrician and bioethicist at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, previously said to CBSNews.com. "Every story is compelling. It's always tragic when someone doesn't get an organ -- that can't be a reason to change that approach," she said.

Meanwhile, the national transplant network has created a special appeals process for about 30 other children who need lungs. The system will allow children 12 and under to petition for adult organs, and a body of medical professionals will decide if their case warrants an exception.

Arthur L. Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, told CBSNews.com that he thought the decision was a "reasonable compromise."

"I don't think there's reason to have further judicial intervention at this point," he said. "I think closer scrutiny needed to be given to exclusion of kids under 12 under from lung donors, and that was achieved. Now I think the system should be allowed to work."

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