On January 6, 2009, Dr. Richard R. Lopez Jr., a Los Angeles surgeon who was the director of the liver transplant program at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles was indicted by a federal grand jury for lying to the national organ transplant network after a liver accepted on behalf of one patient was instead transplanted into another patient who was significantly lower on the national wait list.
The eight-count indictment accuses Dr. Lopez of conspiracy, one counts of concealment of a material fact, and six counts of falsification of records in a matter under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Lopez is scheduled to make his initial appearance on January 25. An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
According to the indictment, in September 2003, St. Vincent was offered a liver for a St. Vincent patient, identified as A-H, who ranked second on the match list for that liver, but who was in his home country of Saudi Arabia. The backup patient for the liver was at another local hospital. Instead of advising the organ procurement organization of the intended switch and allowing the organ to be offered to the backup patient, Dr. Lopez approved acceptance of the liver and its transplantation into a patient at St. Vincent—a patient identified in the indictment as A-B, who was ranked 52nd on the match list behind nine other St. Vincent patients.
After A-B received the liver, Dr. Lopez and his co-conspirators are accused of falsely telling authorities at the national organ transplant network that A-H had received the liver, and later submitted a falsified pathology report on A-H’s “explanted” (removed) liver. As a result of the false reporting, A-H was removed from the liver transplant wait list in September 2003, and was thereafter deprived of the opportunity to have this life-saving operation, according the indictment.
However, it is alleged that Dr. Lopez continued to tell A-H that he was on the liver transplant wait list and instructed A-H return to the United States in April 2004, when A-H was found to be too ill to be transplanted. He subsequently returned to Saudi Arabia, where he later died.
The indictment alleges that in reports filed until 2005 with the authorities operating the national organ transplant network, Dr. Lopez and unnamed co-conspirators continued to maintain the fiction that A-H had received the liver transplant. In 2005, the switch and cover-up were discovered by senior management at St. Vincent, and the matter was reported to authorities.
Dr. Lopez has not been associated with St. Vincent since late 2005. The hospital has fully cooperated with federal authorities since the beginning of the investigation.
Seven of the eight counts in the indictment relate to the false reporting of the recipient of the liver offered for A-H. The last count relates to another incident in which a liver was switched to a different recipient and, following the transplant, Dr. Lopez allegedly misrepresented the circumstances of the switch.
If convicted of the eight counts in the indictment, Lopez faces a statutory maximum penalty of 130 years in federal prison. The case was investigated by agents from the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Attorney Commentary: This case is reflective of two important factors: (1) it was the falsification of records that created the criminal problems and (2) the world-wide shortage of organs. The organ shortage is going to get worse before it gets better.
The Jan. 9, 2010 Wall Street Journal has an interesting and educating article on this issue entitled "The Meat Market." According to experts in this field, there are options. To increase the supply of transplant organs, it would be helpful to have presumed consent, financial compensation for living and deceased donors and point systems. Many people have died but there is a push for innovation in organ donation that will save lives.
Posted by Tracy Green. Should you have any questions regarding your own situation or this post, you can email Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Green & Associates in Los Angeles, California focuses their practice on the representation of licensed professionals, individuals and businesses in civil, business, administrative and criminal proceedings. They have a specialty in representing licensed health care providers. Their website is: http://www.greenassoc.com/