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Surgeon Cleared Of Harming Patient For Organ Transplant

December 19, 2008

On Thursday, a California court acquitted a transplant surgeon of a charge that he had intentionally harmed a donor to speed extraction of the patient’s kidney and liver.

The ruling closed a case that had drawn widespread attention to the medical and ethical complexities of organ transplantation.

Dr. Hootan C. Roozrokh was found not guilty of a single felony charge of abuse of a dependent adult, after two other felony charges (administering harmful substances and unlawful prescription) were dropped last spring.

Roozrokh, 35, was charged with prescribing excessive amounts of drugs during a failed harvesting procedure on a brain-damaged donor, Ruben Navarro, in San Luis Obispo, in February 2006.

The surgeon’s lawyer argued that the San Francisco-based Roozrokh had flown in to retrieve the organs and was trying to ease the patient’s suffering after other doctors failed to perform their duties.

Attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach said Dr. Roozrokh was put in an untenable situation where he could have left, but there was no one there to care for Ruben.

The verdict came after a two-month trial and two days of jury deliberation.

Roozrokh, an Iranian ©migr© and naturalized American, had been trying a lesser-used technique known as “Ëœdonation after cardiac death’, which involves removing a patient from life support before extracting organs.

Experts say the majority of donations involve brain-dead patients, but a growing demand for organs has led to an increase in such cardiac procedures, which require speedy retrieval after a patient’s heart stops.

The 25 year-old Navarro had been brain-damaged and disabled by a neurological disorder, but did not die immediately after his ventilator was removed. He was pronounced dead eight hours later.

The jury issued a statement with its verdict saying the case illustrated a “desperate need” for clear policy on cardiac death donations.

The verdict on Thursday was greeted with a mix of relief and concern among transplant groups regarding the impact of the case on potential donors.

Dr. Goran B. Klintmalm, a former president of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, said we must acknowledge the sensitivities of the events on the ground and extend our sympathies for the surgeon.

“Nobody can give him back the three years he’s lost, both personally and professionally,” he said.

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