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New Jersey residents may know that many people die each year because of long organ transplant waiting lists, but they may be shocked to learn that physicians have sometimes been accused of prematurely diagnosing patients as being brain dead in order to harvest their organs. Medical malpractice attorneys and patient safety advocates claim that this kind of misdiagnosis is widespread, but proving these allegations can be difficult because the lines that separate brain dead and comatose patients are not always clear.
In 2015, media outlets around the country reported on the case on a 29-year-old California woman who was to be taken off life support after doctors concluded that she was brain dead and any further treatment would be futile. The woman’s father filed a lawsuit to keep his daughter on life support, and a court ruled in his favor after neurologists saw her move her head after pinching her. The woman had gone into a coma in 2007 after suffering a seizure.
While patients who are in a coma have often suffered severe brain damage, they may be able to breathe unassisted and react to stimulation. The brains of brain dead patients have been damaged irreversibly and are unable to regulate any of their bodily functions.
While medical professionals are required to follow strict protocols before declaring a patient brain dead and authorizing the harvesting of their organs, the case of the California woman shows that these guidelines are not always followed. Attorneys with medical malpractice experience may call upon neurologists or other experts when the loved ones of comatose patients feel that doctors could be making a diagnosis of brain death prematurely, and they may initiate legal actions to prevent organs from being harvested and compel doctors to continue treatment.