In a case that could easily be from a TV show, a New York hospital has just been fined for a series of outrageous medical errors which resulted in a living woman being labeled dead and sent into surgery to have her organs harvested for donation. The state’s health department found the errors so prevalent that it has found the hospital itself responsible.
Essentially, the doctors and medical staff failed to perform the appropriate tests to determine that the young woman was dead, and then followed that by a spectacular failure to respond to evidence that she was alive. Luckily, the heavily sedated woman opened her eyes in the operating room just before doctors were preparing to harvest her organs.
The woman had been admitted to the hospital after overdosing on painkillers, antihistamines and a muscle relaxant, all of which have sedative properties. The combination of drugs put her into a deep coma, and she was put on life support.
After she did not respond to initial treatment, doctors believed she had undergone cardiac death and would not recover if taken off the life support systems. They asked her family’s permission to remove her from life support in the interest of organ donation.
Cardiac death, however, is not the medical standard for death. The state health department found that no one had initiated a treatment recommended in drug overdoses that stops the drugs from being absorbed into the patient’s system, and they also never tested her to see if the drugs had been metabolized. Furthermore, a nurse had given her a sedative and had not marked it on the chart.
The health department also found that the doctors and hospital staff:
- Failed to read the chart, which indicated she had been improving and had responded to reflex tests
- Did not perform complete brain scans
- Didn’t wait long enough before recommending she be taken off life support
- Failed to notice that she began breathing when taken off the respirator
- Failed to notice her lips and tongue moving
Perhaps even more surprising than the circumstances of the case is the penalty the hospital is facing. It has been fined $6,000 for hospital negligence in this case.
Source: CBS News, “Hospital errors lead to ‘dead’ patient opening eyes during organ harvesting,” Michelle Castillo, July 9, 2013