HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Across the country, and here in Hawai'i, thousands of patients waiting for an organ transplant are anxiously watching an unfolding legal drama. For the second time in two days, a federal judge is allowing a child to go on an adult lung transplant waiting list, while also keeping a priority spot on the pediatric list.
There are two waiting lists for lung transplants – one for children under 12, and one for everyone else. Kids usually wait longer for transplants because there are fewer organs available and until now, they haven't been allowed on the adult waiting lists.
But the recent rulings concern local medical experts who believe the judge's order will set a risky precedent. They say these decisions shouldn't be made by the courts, but by doctors.
"The sad fact is there are not enough organs for all that are waiting. People die waiting for organ transplant," explained Felicia Wells-Williams, the Director of Family Services at Legacy of Life Hawai'i. The non-profit organization helps recover organs and tissue for transplant. Wells-Williams says the court's decision raises questions about fairness and could undermine the integrity of the existing organ allocation process.
"The system that we have in place is really intended to be fair. It is intended to make that scarce resource available to all who are a potential candidate for it," described Wells-Williams.
The state's only transplant center is located at The Queen's Medical Center. It's been open for a little over a year now, and currently handles kidney and liver transplants.
Dr. Whitney Limm has been a kidney transplant surgeon for more than 20 years. He says different organs have different allocation guidelines. For kidneys, children are always given priority, because he says kids on dialysis don't grow.
"I think for the kidney system it is fair, because it's based on number one – kids get put to the top of the list – and then it's based on waiting time. And I think it's a fair system," explained Dr. Limm, who serves as the Kidney Transplant Medical Director at Queen's.
But Dr. Limm says the ability for a non-doctor to make a decision about medical treatment is concerning. He says its every surgeon's hope, patients won't die waiting on a transplant list, but donated organs are a scarce resource.
"5 % of people waiting for kidney transplant pass away every year," described Dr. Limm. "In Hawai'i, we have 400-some people on the wait list for kidneys and for liver transplants and we have close to 35 donors per year."
"Every single one of us has the power to give life by simply making the decision to be a donor," said Wells-Williams.