A national organ donation advocacy organization is weighing in on a decision to block a family from donating a child's organs last month.
News 3 reported earlier this week that 5-year-old Brayden Turnbill's family was blocked by a Dane County assistant district attorney and a judge from donating his organs. Turnbill died on Oct. 24 at UW Hospital after being taken from his home with head and chest injuries that investigators said were from child abuse.
Dane County Assistant District Attorney Tom Fallon asked Judge Peter Anderson for a restraining order in the case against the UW Hospital Organ Procurement Office. Prosecutors and the Dane County medical examiner argued that the body needed to remain completely intact to determine the cause and manner of death. Those court proceedings are sealed, but Anderson granted the restraining order, and Turnbill died that evening after life support was removed.
Thursday, CEO of Donate Life America David Fleming spoke with News 3 about this case and another from earlier this week in Pittsburgh. A DA in Allegheny County tried to intervene to stop the organ donation by the family of a 2-year-old child police said was a victim of child abuse. A judge sided with doctors and allowed the organ donation to go forward to save a 7-year-old girl.
"To maintain the public trust in the system, we need to be making sure we're acting on people's wishes to be a donor," Fleming said.
When asked about the balance of evidence and organ recovery, Fleming said he wasn't aware of a documented case where organ donation has damaged a criminal case. He also said that's why laws are on the books to try to prevent a coroner or district attorney from blocking organ or tissue donation.
"We have laws for a reason, and I think the public would say they want people to honor the laws of the land, and we should not be running to a court to try to get some kind of exception to something people have said that they want," Fleming said.
Samantha Thorstad contacted News 3 after hearing the story, sharing her family's connection to organ donation through her aunt getting a liver transplant in 2001.
"[Prosecutors] need to show me and my family that without those organs there wouldn't have been a conviction, or all I can think of are the additional children sitting on waiting lists needing organs like we did," Thorstad said.
UW Hospital declined to comment on the case, citing health privacy laws.
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