MD Accused Of Speeding Death To Get Organs

A California transplant surgeon is accused of hastening a patient's death via a lethal dose of drugs so his organs could be harvested.

As CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, Dr. Hootan Roozrokh was in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing on charges he ordered that excessive doses of drugs be given to a brain-damaged patient who was near death.

"He didn't deserve to die like that. He wasn't ready to go," cried Rosa Navarro, whose late son, Ruben is at the center of the closely-watched and unprecedented case.

After suffering cardiac arrest, says Whitaker, the profoundly disabled 25-year-old was removed from life support systems at the Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Doctors from the California Transplant Donor Network, led by Roozrokh, were standing by to harvest his organs.

Rose Navarro says it's what happened next that moved the situation from the hospital to the courtroom: "They gave him a big amount of medication, to speed up his death."

Why?

"To harvest his organs," she replied through tears. "I will never be the same, because of what they did to my boy."

The San Luis Obispo prosecutor says Roozrokh tried to hasten Navarro's death with a massive, lethal cocktail of morphine, sedative, and the antiseptic Betadine, a poison. She charged him with three felony counts: dependant adult abuse, administering a harmful substance, and prescribing an unlawful controlled substance.

Roozrokh maintains he did nothing wrong. Still, if convicted, he could get up to eight years in prison.

Thousands of lives are saved each year by donated organs, Whitaker points out.

The Association of Transplant Surgeons fears this case will result in fewer donations.

Medical ethicists, such as Michael Grodin, hope it will encourage more humane harvesting. "There's almost this image of people waiting over them to get their organs," Grodin says, "you know -- the transplant people waiting to say, 'Oh, we can get another organ as soon as we declare them dead, so we'll jump in and take their organs.' So, that's a big problem."

"The issue," says Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who heads the Department of Bioethics of the National Institutes of Health, "is that, in cases where it's a planned death, (when doctors are) going to terminate some life-sustaining treatment, there is this sense that they're just waiting for the death to happen to harvest the organs. And that's, I think, what is worrying people."

Emanuel told co-anchor Harry Smith on The Early Show Thursday that, "Getting a standardized protocol for how to harvest organs with patients who are going to die, something that the clinicians and the transplant surgeons agree to, something the ethicists agree to, and something the lawyers agree to, is very important. ... It's unclear in this case whether the protocol was adhered to or not. But I think getting something that everyone in the country agrees to as ethical and legal is a very important lesson that we could learn from this case."

He also says, "It's hard to know what to think about this case. There's obviously a conflict about the facts and about exactly what went on."

Rosa Navarro says she wants justice: "I don't want this thing to happen again to anybody."

She says her son died without dignity; she's doesn't want it to have been in vain.