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Naha doctors must defend their actions

Date Posted: 1998-03-14

Three doctors employed at Naha Prefecture Hospital are fighting a lawsuit filed by the family of a former patient. The doctors, who remained unnamed in reports, work in the facility run by the Okinawa Prefecture.

In late 1996, a patient was transported by ambulance to Naha Prefecture Hospital after he suffered a brain aneurysm and fell into a coma. En route, the man's heart failed and doctors performed cardio-resuscitation as an attempt to save the patient's life. He was later put on a ventilator but was considered brain dead and doctors began the process of informing the family of their choices.

One doctor counseled the family on organ donations and the wife agreed to allow her husband's kidneys to be transplanted after his death, signing the necessary paperwork. Doctors reduced the man's oxygen and medication and the patient soon deteriorated. On Dec. 18, the patient suffered severe heart failure and the medical staff began the process of a kidney transplant.

The lawsuit filed by the family claims the doctors were hasty in the decision to announce the patient brain dead before performing necessary tests. It goes on to allege that when the wife changed her mind and asked the doctor to cancel the paperwork, her request was denied. The family was shown the patient's medical charts and daily notes taken by the doctors and the wife did not agree with the doctors that her husband was brain dead.

The physicians are fighting the lawsuit, claiming the family is out of line and allegations of improper techniques are unfounded and false. They maintain that the wife was properly counseled after it became apparent her husband was in a vegetative state and that she gave her permission and signed the paperwork, never asking for it to be cancelled. They claim the lawsuit was the first time hospital officials became aware of any complaints or concerns from family members. They believe the family is looking for the paperwork from the Ministry of Health offices.

Under Japanese law, if a patient is declared brain dead and heart failure occurs, doctors have permission to make necessary decisions regarding transplants without waiting for authorization from the Ministry of Health. This is proper procedure, according to Nobuyuki Nakamura, chairman of the Internal Organ Transportation Subcenter. "We received permission from the family and did not hear of cancellation requests from them. Our committee members have said there are no problems here and if the heart fails, the medical staff can take out the kidneys. This is normal and legal."

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