Organs taken from patients that doctors were pressured to declare brain dead
JAMIE SCHRAM | Nypost
The New York Organ Donor Network pressured hospital staffers to declare patients brain dead so their body parts could be harvested — and even hired “coaches” to train staffers how to be more persuasive, a bombshell lawsuit charged yesterday.
The federally funded nonprofit used a “quota” system, and leaned heavily on the next of kin to sign consent forms when patients were not registered as organ donors, the suit charged.
“They’re playing God,” said plaintiff Patrick McMahon, 50, an Air Force combat veteran and nurse practitioner who claims he was fired as a transplant coordinator after just four months for protesting the practice.
The suit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, cited four examples of improper organ harvesting.
In September 2011, a 19-year-old man injured in a car wreck was admitted to Nassau University Medical Center. He was still trying to breathe and showed signs of brain activity, the suit charged.
But doctors declared him brain dead under pressure from donor-network officials, including Director Michael Goldstein, who allegedly said during a conference call: “This kid is dead, you got that?” the suit charged.
The patient’s family consented to have the organs harvested.
“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 Post.
That same month, a woman was admitted to St. Barnabas Hospital in The Bronx still showing signs of life, the suit said.
She had a kidney transplant earlier in life and network officials used that to pressure her daughter into giving consent.
“They say to her, ‘If you give us permission we will use your mother’s organs and we will help many, many people who need them,’ ” he said.
McMahon’s objections were ignored by a neurologist, who declared her brain dead — and her organs were harvested, according to the suit. McMahon even claims he tried to get a second opinion.
A month later, a man was admitted to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, again showing brain activity, the suit said. McMahon claims his protests were again blown off by hospital and donor-network staff, and the man was declared brain dead and his organs harvested.
In November 2011, a woman admitted to Staten Island University Hospital after a drug overdose was declared brain dead and her organs were about to be harvested when McMahon noticed that she was being given “a paralyzing anesthetic” because her body was still jerking.
When he objected, another network employee told hospital personnel McMahon was “an untrained troublemaker with a history of raising frivolous issues and questions,” the suit charged.
“I had a reputation for raising a red flag,” he said.
In order to harvest organs, the network needs a “Note” — an official declaration by a hospital that a patient is brain dead — and consent from next of kin.
The network hired marketing and sales professionals to “coach” workers to tailor their pitches based on the family’s demographics, said the suit, filed by McMahon’s lawyers Michael Borrelli, Alexander Coleman and Bennitta Joseph.
The suit said that on Nov. 4, McMahon told Helen Irving, president and CEO of the network, “one in five patients declared brain dead show signs of brain activity at the time the Note is issued.”
Irving, the suit said, replied: “This is how things are done.”
Network spokeswoman Julia Rivera said she hadn’t seen the suit, but noted that only doctors can declare a patient brain dead.
She called McMahon’s claims of a quota system “ridiculous. There are no quotas.”
A Staten Island University Hospital spokeswoman declined comment. Reps for the other three hospitals could not immediately be reached.