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Posted by on Dec 19, 2008 in Ethics

Transplant Surgeon Acquitted of Dependent-Adult Abuse

Transplant Surgeon Acquitted of Dependent-Adult Abuse

Hootan Roozrokh, the transplant surgeon who was charged with the dependent-adult abuse of Ruben Navarro, was acquitted by a 12-person jury yesterday in San Luis Obispo, California. The charge stemmed from the failed attempt to harvest Navarro’s organs on February 3, 2006, in a case of cardiac-death donation. (For essential background on the story, start here.)

According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Roozrokh still faces a civil suit filed by Navarro’s mother and an accusation filed with the Medical Board of California. The latter involves a “formal, public charge by the Board alleging a physician violated the Medical Practice Act. This is the result of a fully investigated complaint that has been referred to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution. Practice is permitted unless otherwise specified,” reports the MBC web site.

At his trial, Roozrokh testified that he was trying to care for “Ruben,” not hasten his death, when others failed to perform their jobs. The testimony is a thinly veiled accusation against Navarro’s covering attending physician at the Sierra Vista Medical Center, Laura Lubarsky. Roozrokh claimed that, when he and another transplant surgeon, Arturo Martinez, arrived at the Sierra Vista Medical Center to harvest Navarro’s organs, no one had ordered pain medications to be used during Navarro’s attempted organ donation, and Navarro’s covering physician was either not present or not responding to inquiries regarding the patient’s end-of-life care. Roozrokh reported that he consequently stepped in.

Roozrokh also called his referral to Navarro’s pain medications as “candy” in the operating room “dumb.” According to the Tribune, Roozrokh testified, “It was an unconscious statement…It just came out.”

During cross-examination, prosecutor Karen Gray asked Roozrokh if the California Transplant Donor Network had revoked the doctor’s privileges to harvest organs after cardiac death, which prompted a dramatic call for a mistrial by defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach. The Tribune reported:

“I can’t believe it,” Schwartzbach yelled, raising his hands in exasperation after jurors had been removed from the courtroom. “The beginning of that question was so outrageous. This is an experienced prosecutor. She obviously knows she should not have filed this case…The prosecution is beyond me. The fact that they filed it is beyond me.”

Gray was referring to a letter that Roozrokh had received from the California Transplant Donor Network, which temporarily halted his privilege to perform cardiac-death donation until he had observed the procedure. The judge instructed the jurors to disregard Gray’s question.

So far the jurors have declined to comment publicly on their verdict; however, they issued the following statement, as provided by the Tribune.

“We the jury…would like to thank the family of Ruben Navarro, and especially to Ruben, for bringing to light the issues brought forth in this matter…Ruben’s case had identified that donation by cardiac death is in desperate need” of having a national refined protocol. “Refining the nationwide protocol of DCD organ procurements will be an important part of Ruben’s legacy and for that we pay him our respect and owe him our thanks.”

DCD = donation after cardiopulmonary death.

bmartin (1130 Posts)

A native East Tennessean, Barbara Martin is a formerly practicing, board-certified neurologist who received her BS (psychology, summa cum laude) and MD from Duke University before completing her postgraduate training (internship, residency, fellowship) at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She has worked in academia, private practice, medical publishing, drug market research, and continuing medical education (CME). For the last 3 years, she has worked in a freelance capacity as a medical writer, analyst, and consultant. Follow Dr. Barbara Martin on and Twitter.