Bombshell Lawsuit Says Doctors Pressured to Declare Brain Death

A lawsuit filed in New York City on Wednesday is alleging that an organ donor network not only pressures hospital personnel to declare patients brain dead so that their body parts can be harvested, but even hires “coaches” to train staff on how to persuade families to let their loved ones go.

The New York Post is reporting that the plaintiff, Patrick McMahon, 50, an Air Force combat veteran and nurse practitioner, claims he was fired as a transplant coordinator because he protested the coercive practices of the New York Organ Donor Network. He said the federally funded nonprofit had a “quota” system for organs and routinely pressured next of kin to sign consent forms to allow their loved one’s organs to be harvested.

The suit, which was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, cited four examples of improper organ harvesting that involved Network employees pressuring doctors to declare patients brain dead even when they still showed signs of brain activity.

In one case, a 19 year-old man who was injured in a car wreck was still trying to breathe and showed signs of brain activity. During a conference call with doctors, the Network’s director Michael Goldstein allegedly told them, “This kid is dead, you got that?” The family consented to having 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.

In another case, a woman was admitted to St. Barnabas Hospital in The Bronx still showing signs of life. Because the woman had received a kidney transplant earlier in life, Network officials used that to pressure the family into returning the favor by donating her organs.

“They said to her, ‘If you give us permission we will use your mother’s organs and we will help many, many people who need them,’ ” McMahon says.

When he objected to Network tactics, he was reported to hospital personnel as “an untrained troublemaker with a history of raising frivolous issues and questions,” the suit charges.

The suit also alleges that the Network hired marketing and sales professionals to “coach” workers on how to tailor their pitch for organs to a family’s demographics.

Even more alarming was a conversation McMahon had with Helen Irving, president and CEO of the Network, on November 4 in which he told her “one in five patients declared brain dead show signs of brain activity at the time the Note is issued.”

Irving allegedly replied: “This is how things are done.”

Regardless of the outcome of the case, anti-euthanasia activist and lawyer Wesley Smith says the mere filing of such a suit should warn us of the need to better regulate the organ transplant medicine.

“First, we need binding national standards for declaring death in organ donation cases that are followed universally in hospitals. We don’t have them,” Wesley writes in his popular Second Hand Smoke blog.

“Second, there does seem to be a potential to treat some patients as organ farms if the case is seen as hopeless. This utilitarianism needs to be resisted at all quarters. Third, trust in the integrity of the medical system is waning–and with the pressure to cut costs in healthcare growing stronger, it will weaken further–which is why we can never accept a ‘presumed consent’ system of organ donation. Finally, the quality of life ethic poisons all it touches. People who believe–rightly or wrongly–that their loved ones were abandoned for their kidneys and livers will refuse consent,” Smith recommends.

“If we want a thriving organ transplant medical sector, it is up to doctors, hospitals, and the procuring organizations to hold the line, to walk the extra mile to earn and maintain the trust of the people. Allegations such as this need to be seriously investigated, and if true, lanced with the antiseptic of transparency.”

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