Organ donors provide a potential lifeline to patients with failing hearts, kidneys and other body parts. But in the back of many potential organ donors' minds is the nagging concern that the harvesting of organs will begin before there's a certainty that they are dead.
Yet that is the explosive charge contained in a lawsuit by a former employee-turned-whistle-blower of the New York Organ Donor Network, who says the organization pressured hospitals to declare patients brain dead to facilitate organ harvesting, the Staten Island Advance reports.
"It's atrocious what's going on," Patrick McMahon (pictured above) told the Advance. "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."
McMahon, a nurse practitioner and Air Force combat veteran, alleges that he was fired for blowing the whistle on the nonprofit organization's practices, which he called a "quota" system. In the lawsuit, the 50-year-old McMahon charges that his former employer solicited brain-death declarations from hospital staff even when patients showed signs of life.
Further, the newspaper reports, employees of the network hounded patients' grieving kin for organ-removal authorization before their loved ones were officially deemed brain dead, McMahon alleges.
Before organs can be removed for transplantation, a hospital must declare the donor brain dead, and families must sign a consent form. McMahon's lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, cites four examples of improper organ harvesting, the New York Post reports.
In an instance last year, a 19-year-old man injured in a car wreck was admitted to Nassau University Medical Center and declared brain dead by doctors even though he was still trying to breathe and showed signs of brain activity, the suit alleges. The doctors purportedly acted under pressure from New York Organ Donor Network officials, including its medical director, Michael Goldstein, whom court documents quote as saying in a conference call: "This kid is dead, you got that?"
In another instance last November, an unnamed woman was admitted to Staten Island University Hospital after a drug overdose. She was declared brain dead and had her organs removed, the Post reports, citing the lawsuit.
Just as her organs were to be harvested, 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 that McMahon was "an untrained troublemaker with a history of raising frivolous issues and questions," according to the suit.
"I had a reputation for raising a red flag," he told the tabloid.
Network spokeswoman Julia Rivera told the Post that she hadn't seen the suit, but noted that only doctors can declare a patient brain dead. She also called McMahon's allegation that the network used a quota system "ridiculous," adding that no such system exists. A spokeswoman for Richmond University Medical Center declined to comment to the newspaper, and representatives for Nassau University Medical Center and Staten Island University Hospital couldn't be reached for comment.
McMahon was told that the basis for his termination was his failure to properly satisfy job requirements and inefficiency as a transplant coordinator, the court documents state. But McMahon told the Advance: "It's all ridiculous. It's totally false."
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