Hospital fined following death of living liver donor

Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City has been fined $48,000 and prohibited from performing any liver transplants using living donors for at least the next six months following an investigation by the state health commission into the circumstances surrounding the death of a 57-year-old man who agreed to donate part of his liver to his brother.

According to a March 13 report in The New York Times, the donor, Mike Hurewitz, a reporter for the Albany (NY) Times Union newspaper, died on Jan. 13, three days after undergoing the surgical procedure.

While recovering from surgery, Hurewitz vomited blood, inhaled significant amounts of it into his lungs, and choked to death, the report found.

Woefully inadequate supervision’ to blame

New York health commissioner Antonia C. Novello indicated the death was due to "woefully inadequate supervision" on the part of an inexperienced, first-year resident assigned to supervise Hurewitz’s care as well as the other 34 other patients in the unit at the time.

Living organ transplants have been considered controversial in the medical community because they involve exposing the donor, a healthy person, to the significant risks of major surgery. (See the article, "Panacea or peril: Do new treatments save lives or endanger them?" in the August 2001 issue of Medical Ethics Advisor.)

Sinai officials admitted that severe staffing shortages likely contributed to Hurewitz’s death and that steps have been taken to correct the problem.