An investigation has been launched into whether a physician at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center may have illegally hastened the death of an 8-year-old boy using a strong dose of fentanyl, an opioid painkiller, in order to harvest his organs.
The Associated Press reports that “[t]he investigation involves an 8-year-old who went into cardiac arrest after nearly drowning in a washing machine in 2013 and was removed from life support….” Causes of death listed by the medical examiner were “near-drowning and fragile X syndrome,” but adds that “coroner’s investigator Denise Bertone raised questions about the dose of the painkiller fentanyl given to the boy and pressed for re-examination of the case until a subsequent medical examiner added fentanyl toxicity as a significant cause of death….”
Breton claims in a lawsuit that she “suffered work retaliation” for raising the questions surrounding the boy’s death. The AP adds:
Physicians told Cole’s family that he was not brain-dead but “would never recover normal neuro function and could never awaken,” according to an entry on his medical chart.
His parents decided to take him off life support and donate his organs.
The process required organ harvesting to wait until a ventilator was removed and Cole’s heart stopped beating on its own, a procedure known as donation after cardiac death. The process has time constraints because organs can begin deteriorating immediately, some becoming unsuitable for transplantation after 30 minutes….
Cole’s ventilator was removed at 10:40 a.m. The chart said his heart stopped at 10:59 a.m. and Brill declared death four minutes later….
The coroner’s investigator maintains that the little boy “continued to gasp for air” and was then administered fentanyl “with the purpose of inducing his death” — a dose of 500 micrograms for a 47-pound boy.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “A pediatric toxicologist brought in as an expert by the coroner’s office found that the fentanyl ‘was responsible for the death of this patient’ and that the dose was ‘not consistent with a therapeutic dose for the management of pain and discomfort,’ according to excerpts of his findings quoted in a coroner’s report.”
Attorneys for the anesthesiologist maintain his innocence in the matter.