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Doctor Accused of Killing Patient to Harvest Organs

The lawyer for a surgeon charged with prescribing excessive drugs to a disabled patient to speed up his death and harvest his organs says his client has been the subject of a "witch hunt."

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.

Roozrokh was charged Monday in the first such criminal case against a transplant doctor in the U.S., the county district attorney's office said.

M. Gerald Schwartzbach, Roozrokh's lawyer, called the charges "unfounded and ill-advised," saying his client "has unfairly been the subject of an 18-month witch hunt."

"Nothing that Dr. Roozrokh did or said at the hospital that night adversely affected the quality of Mr. Navarro's life or contributed to Mr. Navarro's eventual death," Schwartzbach said in a statement.

Roozrokh planned to surrender and post $10,000 bail, Schwartzbach said.

Navarro was taken in a coma to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles, in 2006 after suffering respiratory and cardiac arrest. Although Navarro was found to have irreversible brain damage and was kept on a respirator, he was not considered brain dead because he still had limited brain function.

The day before Navarro died, his family gave approval for a surgical team to recover his organs for donation. That didn't happen, however, because Navarro didn't die within 30 minutes of being removed from life support. He died a day later.

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 from being involved in the treatment of potential organ donors before they are declared dead.

Prosecutors did not pursue murder charges because witnesses said they did not believe the drugs caused Navarro's death.

The coroner's office this year determined Navarro died of natural causes. Last month, his mother, Rosa, filed a wrongful-death and medical malpractice lawsuit against Roozrokh and others, claiming her son was removed from life support without her permission and given lethal doses of drugs.

Navarro, who weighed about 80 pounds, was born with a neurological disorder known as adrenoleukodystrophy. He also had cerebral palsy and seizures.

Roozrokh was charged with felony counts of dependent adult abuse, administering a harmful substance and unlawful controlled substance prescription. If convicted of all three counts, he faces up to eight years in state prison or up to one year in jail and a $20,000 fine as a condition of probation.

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