Human Exceptionalism

Potential Killing for Organs Case: Trying to Change the Issue

I have written previously of the case of Dr. Hootan Roozrokh in San Luis Obispo, who is accused of attempting to hasten a patient’s death in order to be able to harvest his organs. A letter to the editor by a physician named John P. Okerblom, M. D. , objects. He writes:

Case sends ‘ominous message’

In the compassionate practice of medicine, it is ethical and proper to provide narcotic and sedative medications, often in extraordinary doses, to relieve distress or discomfort. It is understood that such therapy, while preventing suffering, actually hastens death, but, when death is clearly imminent, these measures are widely accepted and practiced. Many families express deep appreciation for this final gift of comfort care to their loved ones.

In choosing to prosecute transplant surgeon Dr. Hootan Roozrokh, Karen Gray is sending an ominous message to all who care for the terminally ill. If one’s reputation and freedom can so capriciously be threatened, who will dare lift a finger to provide those last few hours of comfort for the patient and family?

Regardless of whether you believe this dedicated physician had the ultimate motive of trying to follow the family’s wish that their son’s organs help save a life, or whether he was simply giving compassionate care, this prosecution is a grave mistake. San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Karen Gray should be directing our tax revenues to making our county a safer place to live, not a more frightening place to die.

This is a classic misdirection. Dr. Roozrokh was not the patient’s attending physician, he was the doctor who was supposed to harvest organs after the patient died. Consequently, he should not have even been in the surgical suite while the patient remained alive! Indeed, it was unethical in the extreme for him to assume any part of the patient’s care.

I don’t know whether Roozrokh committed a crime or not. That is up to the jury, and as I have written, some elements of the criminal case has fallen apart. Moreover, the point of palliative care legitimately provided is never to hasten death. That can sometimes happen as a side effect, but that is not the purpose. Stating otherwise could cause patients to refuse necessary palliation for fear the point is assisted suicide.

But criminal or no criminal, Roozrokh’s wrong behavior is what threatened to make the ICU a “more frightening place,” not prosecutors seeking to enforce laws against patient abuse.

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