A transplant surgeon ordered excessive amounts of morphine and a sedative to speed a patient's death so he could harvest the organs, a prosecutor said Monday as the doctor's trial started.
Dr. Hootan Roozrokh faces one count of felony dependent adult abuse for allegedly prescribing too much medication to Ruben Navarro.
"The only purpose for that medication was to hasten his death, so he could do what he was there to do and harvest his organs," said prosecutor Karen Gray.
Roozrokh, 34, of San Francisco, has pleaded not guilty and faces up to four years in prison if convicted. A judge dismissed two other felony counts in March.
The case against Roozrokh is believed to be the first of its kind brought against a transplant doctor in the United States.
Navarro, 26, died in February 2006 at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. He had a debilitating neurological disease and was in a coma after a heart attack.
His kidneys and liver were never harvested because the organs were no longer considered viable when he died.
During a court break, Gray said there was no other ulterior motive for Roozrokh other than to harvest the organs.
But she said on two occasions the surgeon ordered 100 milligrams of morphine and 40 milligrams of the sedative Ativan, most of which was given to Navarro. Gray said there would be testimony from hospital staff that alleges Roozrokh referred to the medicine as "candy."
After it was determined that Navarro's organs weren't going to be harvested, he was taken to the hospital's intensive care unit where he died about seven hours later.
Defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach said there was no financial incentive for his client to procure the organs beyond his usual pay. He also argued the medication given to Navarro wasn't to kill him, but rather to make sure he had "comfort care."
Schwartzbach noted Navarro had built up a tolerance to morphine and the sedative Ativan because he had received them in the year leading up to his death due to treatment for adrenoleukodystrophy.
Schwartzbach said he plans to call medical experts who will testify the amount given to Navarro wasn't excessive.
"If the amount of medication was excessive, it could have caused him injury or death," said Schwartzbach, who noted Navarro died of natural causes.
The hospital and its parent company settled a lawsuit filed last year by Navarro's mother for $250,000. Under terms of the settlement, the hospital acknowledged no wrongdoing.
The trial is expected to last three months.