The medical world is getting ever murkier.
On the one hand there are those noble-minded carrying on a crusade for transplantation of organs from brain-dead patients. That is a possible way out of the shortage of much needed organs that could save other lives and also perhaps prevent the poor from being tricked out of their kidneys.
And here comes a California surgeon who stands accused of hastening the death of one of his patients, disabled and comatose, so that he could harvest the organs that much quicker district attorney's office accused.
Dr. Hootan Roozrokh, 33, the surgeon allegedly ordered massive amounts of narcotic painkillers and sedatives for the 26-year-old Ruben Navarro, "to accelerate Mr. Navarro's death," according to a written release from the San Luis Obispo County district attorney.
The irony of the story is that the surgeon is now being prosecuted even though he didn't exactly succeed in his designs - for the patient, Navarro, did not die within 30 minutes after being removed from life support, as required for transplantation. The incident took place last year.
Navarro was taken in a coma to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles, after suffering respiratory and cardiac arrest.
Although Navarro was found to have irreversible brain damage and was kept on a respirator, he was not considered brain dead because he still had limited brain function.
The day before Navarro died, the surgeon did secure the approval of the patient's family for organ donation.
But subsequently Navarro's mother, Rosa, filed a wrongful-death and medical malpractice lawsuit against Roozrokh and others, claiming her son was removed from life support without her permission and given lethal doses of drugs.
Navarro, who weighed about 80 pounds, was born with a neurological disorder known as adrenoleukodystrophy. He also had celebral palsy and seizures. Navarro lived in a home for mentally and physically challenged adults in the year before his death.
A report from federal regulators said Roozrokh ordered Navarro to receive 200 milligrams of morphine and 80 milligrams of the sedative Ativan - far in excess of the usual doses.
Roozrokh was also accused of prescribing excessive morphine and administering the topical antiseptic Betadine into Navarro's stomach.
Roozrokh, a U.S. citizen, was born in Iran and emigrated with his family at age 2. He was charged with felony counts of dependent adult abuse, administering a harmful substance and unlawful controlled substance prescription. If convicted of all three counts, he faces up to eight years in state prison or up to one year in jail and a $20,000 fine as a condition of probation.
Roozrokh, a surgeon at Kaiser Permanente's now-closed kidney transplant program, was working at the time on behalf of a group that procures and distributes organs.
State law prohibits transplant surgeons to be involved in the treatment of potential organ donors before they are declared dead.
Roozrokh's lawyer, M. Gerald Schwartzbach, called the charges "unfounded and ill-advised," saying his client "has unfairly been the subject of an 18-month witch hunt."
"Nothing that Dr. Roozrokh did or said at the hospital that night adversely affected the quality of Mr. Navarro's life or contributed to Mr. Navarro's eventual death," Schwartzbach said in a statement.
A warrant was issued for Roozrokh's arrest and he is expected to turn himself in this week.Advertiser links The charges are the first in the nation against a physician for his role in a transplant.