The heartbreaking story of a mentally disabled 3-year-old denied a kidney transplant has prompted outrage. The affair highlights the complicated nature of waiting for organ donation.
Children’s hospital cruelly denies transplant
A 3-year-old girl afflicted with Wolf-Hirschorn Syndrome, a genetic disease that causes deformity and mental retardation, has been denied a kidney transplant, according to CBS, allegedly because she is suffers from mental retardation.
The story of Amelia Rivera, who was turned down by the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, and her mother Chrissy Rivera has become a media sensation, and a Facebook petition is gathering signatures from people who think she should receive a kidney.
Hard choices in transplants
The implication of an organ transplant or other medical care denied because of diminished mental capacity is horrifying and brings attention to the fact that organ transplants require hard choices be made. In effect, transplant recipient selection is a form of triage, the process doctors use to prioritize patient care. Those who can be saved from death are prioritized above those who cannot.
Similarly, some people who need transplants aren’t eligible because others are judged to be able to benefit more from a transplant. Amelia, according to CNN, has been in the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania for almost all of her life. Wolf-Hirschorn Syndrome, depending on the variety of the disorder, has a median life expectancy of about 34 years; one in five people born with it, according to a Journal of Medical Genetics article on the National Institutes of Health website, die within two years of birth.
There are 90,150 people in the U.S. currently waiting for a kidney transplant. In 2008, according to the Wall Street Journal, 16,500 of the 80,000 waiting for a kidney received one. That year, 4,573 people died while waiting for a kidney, according to CBS. The Organ Procurement and Transportation Network, the division of the National Institutes of Health that oversees organ transplants, has more people on the list waiting for a kidney than for all other organs combined, according to MSNBC.
As a result of organ shortages, more hospitals are having to resort to transplanting donor organs that may have defects that might otherwise rule them out, according to the Wall Street Journal. It is also estimated that 5 to 10 percent of organ transplants worldwide use black market organs.
Currently, stem cell researchers worldwide are advancing the science of lab-grown organs, according to The Guardian. There have been some successes, such as the transplant of a lab-grown trachea last year. Scientists in Scotland, according to the Daily Mail, created fetal-size kidneys in lab settings using stem cells earlier this year. The protocol for transplanting them, though, could take up to a decade to develop.
Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703481004574646233272990474.html
The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/neurophilosophy/2011/dec/04/1
Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1376044/Human-kidneys-created-stem-cells-organ-breakthrough.html
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