Police are looking into potential foul play at a hospital where an 8-year-old boy’s organs were donated after he was taken off life support four years ago. The LA Times reports that Cole Hartman went into cardiac arrest after almost drowning in his home’s washing machine. After being rushed by helicopter to California’s Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center the boy remained in a coma and on life support, but was not brain dead. His parents decided to remove him from his ventilator and donate his organs after learning that he would never return to “normal neuro function” and might never awaken. He was pronounced dead 23 minutes after being removed from life support, but the LAPD and district attorney are now investigating allegations that the boy’s death may have been accelerated so his organs could be harvested.
At the time of his autopsy, pediatric coroner’s investigator Denise Bertone noted that Cole was administered an amount of an opioid called fentanyl by his anesthesiologist that she found suspect for a boy his weight. Since Cole was not brain dead, his organ donation came after cardiac death, a process in which organs deteriorate much more rapidly, which can result in "time pressures," per the Times. Though opioids are allowed under UCLA’s policy for cases like Cole’s “in doses that are clinically appropriate to prevent discomfort,” Bertone worked to amend the boy’s death certificate despite protests from her superiors. The certificate was changed to include fentanyl toxicity as a significant cause of death in December, and thus began a highly sensitive criminal investigation that one detective calls “very complicated.” A lawyer for the anesthesiologist says the allegations are “factually wrong and patently offensive,” and that her client was only ensuring that Cole would “not suffer any pain.” Read the full story at the Times. (Read more hospital stories.)