A surgeon in California is accused of prescribing excessive drugs to a comatose, disabled patient, in order to speed up his death and harvest his organs for transplantation.
According to the San Luis Obispo County district attorney, this is the first such criminal case against a transplant doctor in the United States.
Prosecutors say that Dr. Hootan Roozrokh, a 33-year-old Iranian-born U.S. citizen, gave a harmful drug and prescribed excessive doses of morphine and a sedative to 26-year-old Ruben Navarro.
Navarro was taken in a coma to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, near Los Angeles, in 2006 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, his family gave approval for a surgical team to recover his organs for donation, though the procedure never occurred because Navarro did not die within 30 minutes of being removed from life support. He died the next day.
At that time, Roozrokh, a surgeon at Kaiser Permanente's now-closed kidney transplant program, was working on behalf of a group that procures and distributes organs. According to prosecutors, drugs were prescribed "to accelerate Mr. Navarro's death in order to recover his organs."
According to state laws, transplant surgeons are not allowed to be involved in the treatment of potential organ donors before they are declared dead.
Yet, Roozrokh's lawyer M. Gerald Schwartzbach calls the charges "unfounded and ill-advised". He says his client "has unfairly been the subject of an 18-month witch hunt.Prosecutors are not pursuing murder charges because witnesses say they do not believe the drugs caused Navarro's death", Says Chief Deputy District Attorney Stephen Brown: "The central issue of this case is the mistreatment of a developmentally disabled, dependent adult in an attempt to hasten the person's death for organ transplantation."
The coroner's office this year determined that Navarro died of natural causes. Last month, his 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.