A California organ transplant surgeon was acquitted in a criminal action that alleged he had intentionally harmed a donor by prescribing excessive amounts of drugs in order to speed up the extraction of the patient’s kidney and liver. The surgeon’s attorney argued that the doctor had flown in from his San Francisco offices in order to retrieve the organs and had prescribed medications in attempts to ease the patient’s suffering after other doctors had failed to perform their duties.
Dr. Roozrokh, the transplant surgeon, was found not guilty of a felony count of abuse of a dependent adult. Two other charges for administering harmful substances and unlawful prescription medicines had both been dropped last spring.
This San Francisco jury trial drew attention to the medical and ethical issues surrounding the complexities of organ transplantation. Typically medical transplant cases are medical malpractice lawsuits, not criminal cases. In Illinois, these cases typically involve some sort of medical transplant error, whether infection or diseased donated organs. This is believed to be the first instance where a doctor had been accused of such criminal actions.
Most organ donors are brain-dead patients, but a growing demand for organs has increased the need for speedy organ retrieval after the donor’s heart stops, which has led to new transplant removal procedures. In the Roozrokh case, the transplant surgeon had been using the lesser-known technique known as <a href="donation after cardiac death, a technique that involves removing a patient from life support immediately before removing organs.
In the Roozrokh case, the donating patient was in fact brain dead and had been disabled by a neurological disorder. However, when he was removed from the ventilator he did not die until eight hours later. The facts surrounding this case were extremely complex. The trial itself lasted two months and the jury deliberated for two days before returning a verdict in favor of the surgeon.
While the result caused relief among organ transplant groups, there is also the sense that there needs to be further clarification on cardiac death donation policies. Time will show what impact this case has on both potential donors and recipients who are desperately in need of organ transplantation.