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LIFE DIGEST: Doctor’s alleged efforts to hasten death could undermine organ donation

WASHINGTON (BP)–If a San Francisco doctor is found guilty of seeking to hasten the death of a man to harvest his organs, it could have grave repercussions for organ donations in this country.

Bioethicists expressed such concerns after Hootan Roozrokh, 33, a transplant surgeon, was charged July 30 in a case in which he allegedly attempted to speed up the death of Ruben Navarro, 26, last year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Roozrokh had gone to San Luis Obispo to help recover Navarro’s organs. Roozrokh prescribed inordinate amounts of painkillers and injected an antiseptic into Navarro’s stomach to speed up death and enable his organs to be extracted more quickly, said authorities who brought criminal charges, the Chronicle reported.

If the charges are true, “the cascade effect is likely to produce a chilling effect on organ donation,” Southern Baptist bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell told Baptist Press.

“Potential donors need assurances that everything appropriate will be done to preserve their lives,” said Mitchell, director of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Nothing less is required for ethical care. Nothing less is required for confidence in the organ donation/transplantation system.

“However urgent the need for donor organs, we must not allow healers to become killers,” he said. “If Dr. Roozrokh is found guilty of homicide, he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Wesley Smith, a lawyer for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, said such news can feed a widespread concern.

“One of the greatest fears among the general public about transplant medicine is that the sickest patients will not be viewed as people so much as organ farms, and indeed, that patients may be euthanized in order to gain access to their organs,” Smith wrote in a weblog at bioethics.com. “[I]f this charge is true, [Roozrokh] not only contributed to the death of a patient, but also will have caused tremendous harm to the people’s trust in transplant medicine.”

Prosecutors issued felony charges against Roozrokh for dependent adult abuse, administering a harmful substance and unlawful prescription of a controlled substance, according to the Chronicle.

A California law prohibits transplant doctors from being involved in the care of potential organ donors before they die.

Organs may not be harvested from a donor if he is not declared dead within 30 minutes of being removed from life support. Navarro’s organs were not extracted because he died eight hours after being taken off a respirator, the Chronicle reported.

JUMP-STARTING THE BRAIN -– A man in a minimally conscious state for six years now can speak and eat after receiving experimental electrical treatment.

Researchers announced Aug. 1 they had observed marked improvement in the unnamed, 38-year-old man after implanting electrodes in his brain, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The results were reported in the journal Nature.

The man’s skull was crushed and his brain severely damaged in a 1999 assault. Prior to the experiment, the man could not speak, was fed through a tube, normally had his eyes closed and would sometimes respond to questions by signaling with his fingers or slightly shaking his head, The Inquirer reported.

“My son can now eat, speak, watch a movie without falling asleep,” his mother told reporters in a telephone news conference, according to the newspaper. “The most important part is he can say ‘Mommy’ and ‘Pop,’ He can say, ‘I love you, Mommy.’ … I still cry every time I see my son, but it’s tears of joy.”

The researchers acknowledged their study involved only this patient, although they plan to try it with other patients. They also said the treatment would not help patients considered to be in a persistent vegetative state, such as Terri Schiavo, and likely would not work with those who are worse off in the minimally conscious range.

Schiavo, who died in 2005 after being taken off water and food at her husband’s request, received electrode implants but they were not successful, according to The Inquirer. Some experts believed Schiavo was not in a persistent vegetative state.

The new report shows again patients “who are diagnosed as profoundly cognitively impaired may merely be unable to communicate,” Smith said in a weblog at bioethics.com.

“[N]o one should ever be ‘written off’ as a ‘vegetable,'” Smith said. “The V-word is a terrible epithet that should be considered a pejorative akin to the N-word since it is explicitly designed to denigrate and dehumanize the person to whom it is applied. No person is a carrot or a turnip and all deserve proper care for as long as they live.

“[M]any would have totally supported the patient’s family having his feeding tube removed,” he wrote. “How many people are dead today who might have gone on to marked improvement had the doctors waited to ‘pull the tube?'”

NO COERCION IN ARK. –- A new Arkansas law that requires abortion clinics to inform women they cannot be coerced into the procedure should spread to the other states, a leader of a post-abortive women’s organization says.

The new measure, which is an amendment to the state’s informed consent law, went into effect July 31, according to LifeNews.com. The law mandates a woman be informed by an abortion clinic no person can force her to have an abortion.

“I can’t tell you how many women I know who’ve been pressured into aborting by a boyfriend, husband or parent,” said Georgette Forney, co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, in a written release. “Everyone in every state should support this type of legislation. After all, how could someone who says he’s pro-choice oppose a law that tells a woman she has a choice?”