Police Pursue Murder Investigation - Doctor Accused Of Causing Child Organ Donor's Death

After a tragic accident, a family made two difficult decisions: to take their child off life support, and to donate his organs. After the child's death, allegations were made that the anesthesiologist helped his death along by administering a fatal dose of drugs that would kill him faster and better preserve the organs.

The doctor denies the accusations, but an investigation has been launched.

The 8-year-old boy, known as Cole, was rushed to UCLA's pediatric intensive care unit after falling head-first into a washing machine and nearly drowning. Cole was in a coma, and though he wasn't brain-dead, his grieving parents were told he would never wake up, and never recover neuro functioning.

They decided to take him off life support and donate his organs.

Doctors removed the ventilator, and anesthesiologist Dr. Judith Brill administered a dose of fentanyl. Some 23 minutes later, Brill declared Cole dead.

Brill doesn't deny issuing the dose of opioids; she says it is a standard practice when patients are taken off life support to ease the patient's pain. It's referred to as 'comfort care'.

“It’s generally thought you give enough medication to reassure everyone that the patient is comfortable, but not so much that it is actually the primary cause of death,” said anesthesiologist Nicholas Sadovnikoff of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

A coroner flagged the use of fentanyl during Cole's autopsy and campaigned to have the death investigated. Cole's death certificate was eventually altered to include fentanyl toxicity as a 'significant cause' of his death, and the case was opened earlier this year to investigate Brill.

Because Cole wasn't brain-dead, his organs couldn't be harvested until his heart stopped beating. Unfortunately, organs deteriorate immediately when this happens, and there is a very small window of time in which doctors can harvest them for transplants - less than 30 minutes.

A transplant team was waiting to rush in as soon as Cole died, but he didn't stop breathing right away. The coroner says in reviewing the medical charts that the boy 'continued to gasp for air', and that Brill administered fentanyl 'with the purpose of inducing his death'.

Brill's chart does not specify that she administered fentanyl, but does note that 'comfort care was provided throughout'.

Coroner Denise Bertone, a veteran investigator who specialized in child deaths, was the one who pushed for the case to be opened. She claims that she's been removed from working in pediatric cases because she challenged the handling of Cole's case, and she's suing the county for damages.

Reports say anesthesiologist Dr. Brill 's 'deeply troubled' by the accusations. “This is someone who has really had an exemplary career,” said Dr. Jean Lake, a pediatric neurologist at Miller Children’s Hospital and colleague of Brill. Lake says Brill is 'concerned that her ability, her skills, her intentions would be called into question.”

Cole’s family has only recently become aware that an investigation has been opened against Cole’s doctor regarding their son’s case. Thus far, no charges have been filed.

Source: LA Times
Photos: Public Domain Pictures, ABC 7 Screenshot, UCLA via Daily Mail

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