Human Exceptionalism

Killed For Organs?

One of the greatest fears among the general public about transplant medicine is that the sickest patients will not be viewed as people so much as organ farms, and indeed, that patients may be euthanized in order to gain access to their organs. Now, a San Francisco transplant surgeon is charged with doing just that. From the story:

A San Francisco transplant surgeon was charged Monday with prescribing overdoses of medication to speed up the death of a man at a San Luis Obispo hospital and harvest his organs. Dr. Hootan Roozrokh, 33, prescribed excessive amounts of morphine and Ativan and injected the topical antiseptic Betadine into Ruben Navarro’s stomach in February 2006, prosecutors in San Luis Obispo County said. Navarro, 26, who was severely disabled mentally and physically, had suffered respiratory and cardiac arrest and had been taken off life support, authorities said.

The intended donation would have been an example of a “non-heart beating cadaver donor protocol,” under which life support is removed and if a patient goes into cardiac arrest, several minutes after death the organs are procured. However, if the patient doesn’t die within thirty minutes or an hour of life support removal, then the patient is to be reconnected to treatment and removed permanently from eligibility for organ donation. From what I can tell, this may be why the overdose was administered–to get him dead within the time limit–since the patient in this case died eight hours after removal of life support.

One of the supposedly iron-clad protocols to ensure ethical treatment of the living patient is that the transplant team is to have no involvement with the patient’s care prior to death. If Dr. Roozrrokh violated this fundamental and easy-to-understand rule–even if he didn’t intend to hasten the patient’s death–his license to practice medicine should be on the line.

Dr. Roozrokh denies all wrongdoing, but if this charge is true, he not only contributed to the death of a patient, but also will have caused tremendous harm to the people’s trust in transplant medicine.