The papers are all over yesterday's story about the prosecution of a young surgeon in Los Angeles who is accused of hastening a patient's death (or, to be less circumspect but at least as accurate about it, of killing a patient) in order to procure organs for transplant. Here's how the New York Times' front-page story
On a winter night in 2006, a disabled and brain damaged man named Ruben Navarro was wheeled into an operating room at a hospital here. By most accounts, Mr. Navarro, 25, was near death, and doctors hoped that he might sustain other lives by donating his kidneys and liver.
But what happened to Mr. Navarro quickly went from the potentially life-saving to what law enforcement officials say was criminal. In what transplant experts believe is the first such case in the country, prosecutors have charged the surgeon, Dr. Hootan C. Roozrokh, with prescribing excessive and improper doses of drugs, apparently in an attempt to hasten Mr. Navarro’s death to retrieve his organs sooner.
A preliminary hearing begins here on Wednesday, with Dr. Roozrokh facing three felony counts relating to Mr. Navarro’s treatment as a donor. At the heart of the case is whether Dr. Roozrokh, who studied at a transplant fellowship program at the Stanford University School of Medicine, was pursuing organs at any cost or had become entangled in a web of misunderstanding about a lesser-used harvesting technique known as “donation after cardiac death.”
Donation after cardiac death will require more extensive treatment here than I have time for today, but -- regardless of what the facts eventually are shown to be in the Roozrokh case -- the publicity surrounding this case is already a public-relations setback for the organ transplant community. And if it turns out that "lethal doses" or morphine and Ativan, not to mention the IV administration of the topical disinfectant betadine, were administered, "setback" will be the mildest term to describe the situation.
The concept of death by morphine overdose brings to mind the Pou case
out of New Orleans, in which similar charges were brought against Dr. Pou in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The grand jury there refused to indict her, though she continues to face civil actions in connection with the deaths of some of the patients she attended to. For a truly impressive expert analysis of that case, as well as an enlightening discussion of the lack of support in the medical literature for a temporal connection between morphine administration and time of death, you could do no better than Dr. Steven Miles' report
, which was prepared at the request of Dr. Pou's defense team.