LOS ANGELES – A surgeon was charged Monday with prescribing excessive drugs to a comatose, disabled patient to hasten his death and harvest his organs for transplantation.
Prosecutors in San Luis Obispo County said Dr. Hootan Roozrokh, 33, of San Francisco, gave a harmful drug and prescribed excessive doses of morphine and a sedative to 26-year-old Ruben Navarro, who died in 2006.
The day before Navarro died, his family gave approval for a surgical team to recover his organs for donation, though the procedure never occurred because Navarro did not die within 30 minutes of being removed from life support. He died the next day.
Roozrokh, a surgeon at Kaiser Permanente’s now-closed kidney transplant program, was working at the time on behalf of a group that procures and distributes organs. The prosecutor’s office said in a statement that the drugs were prescribed “to accelerate Mr. Navarro’s death in order to recover his organs.”
State law prohibits transplant surgeons to be involved in the treatment of potential organ donors before they are declared dead.
It’s the first such criminal case against a transplant doctor in the United States, the county district attorney’s office said.
Roozrokh’s lawyer, M. Gerald Schwartzbach, called the charges “unfounded and ill-advised,” saying his client “has unfairly been the subject of an 18-month witch hunt.”
Prosecutors did not pursue murder charges because witnesses said they did not believe the drugs caused Navarro’s death.
“The central issue of this case is the mistreatment of a developmentally disabled, dependent adult in an attempt to hasten the person’s death for organ transplantation,” Prosecutor Stephen Brown said in an interview.
Navarro, who weighed about 80 pounds, was born with a neurological disorder known as adrenoleukodystrophy. He also had celebral palsy and seizures.
A report from federal regulators said Roozrokh ordered Navarro to receive 200 milligrams of morphine and 80 milligrams of the sedative Ativan – far in excess of the usual doses.
Roozrokh, a U.S. citizen, was born in Iran and emigrated with his family at age 2. He was charged with felony counts of dependent adult abuse, administering a harmful substance and unlawful controlled substance prescription.