BioethicsMon Oct 1, 2012 - 4:55 pm EST
One in five ‘brain dead’ patients still alive, claims lawsuit
NEW YORK, October 1, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – At least one in five patients declared “brain dead” and approved as “organ donors” by one organ donation organisation, are in fact still alive and are being killed by the removal of vital organs, a lawsuit filed last week in Manhattan alleges. The suit outlines the ghoulish worst-case scenario, one that was widely dismissed as scaremongering in the early days of the development of organ transplant technology, but which is getting a second hearing amidst growing concerns that coercion and abuse are becoming increasingly common in the highly lucrative transplant business.
Patrick McMahon, a nurse practitioner and Air Force combat veteran, launched the suit in New York alleging that a major organ donation group is using a quota system for obtaining viable organs. He says it is applying pressure on families and doctors to declare patients dead who are, in fact, still alive and could recover.
The New York Organ Donor Network, McMahon says, even hires “coaches” to help obtain consent “notes”. These coaches, the suit contends, are nothing more than sales and marketing experts who teach transplant coordinators to use high-pressure psychological tactics to play on the emotions of vulnerable family members. The suit alleges that employees who failed to make their quotas were fired.
“You’re not there for grief counselling,” he told the Daily Mail, “you’re there to get organs. It’s all about sales—and that’s pretty much a direct quote from the organisation. Counsellors are required to get a 30 per cent consent rate from families.” The top “counsellors” get a Christmas bonus, he added.
McMahon’s suit cites one case in which a 19-year-old car crash victim was struggling to breathe and showing signs of brain activity, but doctors signed off on the “donation.” The suit alleges that Network director, Michael Goldstein, “bullied” staff at the Nassau University Medical Center. It quotes him telling a conference call, “This kid is dead, you got that?”
“I have been in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan in combat. I worked on massive brain injuries, trauma, gunshot wounds, IEDs. I have seen worse cases than this and the victims recover,” McMahon told the Washington Post.
McMahon was an employee of the Organ Donor Network, but was fired shortly after bringing his concerns to the attention of the CEO. The suit was filed on September 25 in Manhattan Supreme Court and says that on November 4 last year, McMahon spoke with Helen Irving, the president and CEO of the Organ Donor Network. He told her that, “one in five patients declared brain dead show signs of brain activity” when the official notice of brain death is issued.
The suit quotes Irving replying, “This is how things are done.”
The Washington Post quoted Organ Donor Network’s spokesman Julia Rivera saying that though she had not seen the documents, claims of a quota system are “ridiculous.” “There are no quotas.”
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McMahon’s suit accuses the Network of “wrongful and illegal practices.” McMahon was fired from his position as a transplant coordinator on November 15th, just days after his alleged conversation with Helen Irving. The stated reason, he was told by the Network, was failure to properly satisfy job requirements and inefficiency, accusations he calls “ridiculous” and “totally false.”
“It’s atrocious what’s going on,” McMahon told Staten Island Live. “These individuals that aren’t brain dead can’t speak for themselves. The family members aren’t experts. I’m trying to stop [the network] from doing this,” he said.
The suit alleges that in another case a man admitted to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn was also showing signs of brain activity, but though McMahon protested, the man was declared brain dead and his organs were removed. In a third case cited, a woman was declared brain dead after being admitted to Staten Island University Hospital for a drug overdose. McMahon says when she was having her organs removed, he noticed she was being administered a “paralyzing anesthetic” drug to stop her body from jerking on the operating table.
He told the Daily Mail, “She was having brain function when they were cutting into her on the table. He had given her a paralyser and there’s no reason to give someone who is dead a paralyser.”
On being confronted, the hospital staffer administering the drug told McMahon that he had been told to do it because she was moving as her chest was being cut open. “A paralyser only paralyses you, it does nothing for the pain,” McMahon told the Mail.
In that case, McMahon said, surgeons “took everything”. “They took her eyes, her joints. She was right there when I was having the conversation. They were inserting the plastic bones where the real ones had been.”
In response to McMahon’s protests, Network staff told the hospital he was “an untrained troublemaker with a history of raising frivolous issues and questions.”
“Despite these facts, over [McMahon’s] vehement objections, NYODN continued to process the female patient and allowed the life-ending surgery to go forward,” the court documents say. “NYODN’s actions are the direct cause for the female patient’s premature death.”
Ethicists continue to warn that money, not altruism, is the driving force behind organ transplants that have become a multi-billion dollar, global industry. In 2008, after the Vatican’s own Pontifical Academy for Life co-sponsored a high-profile international conference on organ transplantation, many in the pro-life community protested that no mention was made by any speaker of the ethical concerns over coercion or death criteria.
But after the vociferous international outcry, Pope Benedict XVI himself issued a stern warning in his address to the conference attendees, saying that the primary concern must be that organ transplantation does not devolve into a choice of one life over another. “Informed consent is the precondition of freedom, so that the transplant has the characteristic of a gift and cannot be interpreted as an act of coercion or exploitation,” the pope said. The medical community must reject the illicit trade in organs “which often affect innocent people such as children” and the “utilitarian criteria” for donation. These must be, he said, “strongly condemned as abominable.”
In 2008, the New England Journal of Medicine printed an article that frankly argued that “brain death” is a sham. The article, co-authored by Dr. Robert D. Truog, a professor of medical ethics and anesthesia (pediatrics) in the Departments of Anesthesia and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the scientific literature does not support the criteria for ‘brain death’ and ‘cardiac death’ as being real death. “Although it may be ethical to remove vital organs from these patients, we believe that the reason it is ethical cannot convincingly be that the donors are dead,” the article said.
So open has the “brain death” secret become in medical circles that some are urging that such criteria simply be dropped. Dr. Neil Lazar, director of the medical-surgical intensive care unit at Toronto General Hospital, Dr. Maxwell J. Smith of the University of Toronto, and David Rodriguez-Arias of Universidad del Pais Vasco in Spain, admitted at a major conference that the pretense should be ended and that organs should be allowed to be removed from “dying” or “severely injured” patients. This more “honest” approach, they said, would avoid the problems created by purely ideological definitions of death that are known to be mere pretexts to expand the organ donor pool.