California transplant surgeon acquitted

A jury acquitted a San Francisco transplant surgeon Thursday of criminal charges
related to his alleged actions during an attempted organ harvest nearly three years ago in a small town on California’s central coast.

In what’s thought to be the first case of its kind in the United States, prosecutors accused surgeon Hootan Roozrokh of ordering excessive amounts of painkillers to hasten the death of a potential organ donor.

The not-guilty verdict relieved the
transplant community, which feared the case would have chilling effects
on the public’s willingness to donate organs and surgeons’ willingness
to participate in the rarer type of donation done in this case, called
donation after cardiac death or DCD.

This case forced the transplant community to re-examine its processes and its aggressive push to harvest more organs. Here and here are New England Journal of Medicine reports on DCD.

All the experts I spoke to while reporting on this case told me clearly there were no winners here. The mother of the organ donor, Roozrokh, the hospital and the transplant community all suffered greatly.

The message experts repeated is that there is no room for improvisation or slip-ups in a situation when fewer than five minutes pass between someone’s legal declaration of death and the recovery of his organs.

The clear take-home message was that no short-cuts can be taken in the effort to increase the nation’s organ supply. To maintain credibility and trust, each procurement organization, each hospital, each surgeon, each transplant team must know the proper protocols and follow them exactly.

No doubt that is the message Roozrokh would echo after his three-year ordeal. He still faces a civil lawsuit and a complaint by the California Medical Board.

Read more about the case in a previously THCB post here and here.

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