- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2007

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Accusations that a transplant surgeon tried to speed a patient’s death to recover his organs could dissuade potential donors at a time when the national waiting list for critical organs keeps growing, some specialists say.

“One of the biggest fears that people have about organ donation is that their death will be hastened if they’re identified as a donor,” bioethicist Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania said Tuesday. “The transplant community has struggled mightily to allay the fears.”

Any dip in the organ donation rate related to the case likely would have the greatest effect near its epicenter because organs are distributed regionally, Mr. Caplan said. The purported crime occurred at a hospital in San Luis Obispo, on California’s central coast.

About 97,000 people nationally are awaiting transplants.

Prosecutors on Monday charged transplant surgeon Hootan Roozrokh, 33, with prescribing massive amounts of drugs in an attempt to hasten the death of Ruben Navarro, 25, who was physically and mentally disabled.

The case, thought to be the first of its kind in the United States, sent a chill through the transplant community.

The United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the nation’s transplant system under a federal contract, called the case against Dr. Roozrokh “deeply disturbing.”

State law and the network’s rules prohibit transplant doctors from being involved in the treatment of potential organ donors before they are declared dead.

Dr. Goran Klintmalm, president of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, said the negative publicity could scare away doctors from performing organ recovery because “they may be accused of wrongdoing.”

Prosecutors purport that Dr. Roozrokh prescribed excessive morphine and the sedative Ativan to Mr. Navarro last year in the operating room of Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. He also was accused of administering an antiseptic into Mr. Navarro’s stomach.

Dr. Roozrokh, a surgeon at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, was working at the time on behalf of a local organ procurement group. His attorney, M. Gerald Schwartzbach, said no crime was committed.

Mr. Navarro, who was born with a neurological disorder and had been living in an assisted care facility, was taken to the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest. He was diagnosed with irreversible brain damage and placed on life support.

Kevin Chaffin, an attorney for Mr. Navarro’s mother, Rosa, said the case chalked up to “predatory harvesting practices.” Mr. Chaffin said Mrs. Navarro, who filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Dr. Roozrokh and others, never agreed to take her son off the respirator.