Police in Los Angeles are investigating information that an 8-year-old boy was given pain killers to speed his death and preserve his organs for transplant.
In a bizarre case of an alleged God complex, Coroner Denise Bertone raised concerns over the dose of fentanyl given to Cole Hartman by Dr. Judith Brill. Bertone pressed for a re-examination of the case until another medical examiner added fentanyl toxicity as a “significant” cause of death.
Hartman, who suffered from Fragile X Syndrome, was pronounced dead at 11:03 a.m. after being administered a high-level dosage of the drug. The genetic disorder contributes to intellectual disabilities, hyperactivity, and seizures in sufferers.
According to the report and a 911 recording, Hartman’s father found him with his head submerged in a running washing machine on July 31, 2013. Paramedics restored his heartbeat when they arrived on the scene and his parents explained that he could have been under water for as long as 25 minutes. The child was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and later flown to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles by helicopter.
The medical chart shows that the attending physicians explained to his parents that although the boy wasn’t brain dead, he would not recover “normal neuro function and could never awaken.” The distraught parents agreed to remove the life support equipment and donate his organs. What happened afterward is somewhat sketchy.
Organ harvesting requires that the procedure, known as ‘donation after cardiac death,’ be postponed until the ventilator has been removed and the patient’s heart stops beating on its own. Because organs begin deteriorating soon after the loss of oxygen, there’s only about a 30-minute window before they become unsuitable for donation.
Before he was taken off life support, Brill is accused of administering a high dose of the pain killer fentanyl to the little boy. The fast-working opiate is used for a variety of medical procedures, but questions have arisen about Brill’s motives and actions.
In a whistle blower lawsuit, Bertone asserted that she suffered negative retaliation from her initial concerns over the death. She raised questions about the dose of the drug given to the boy, 500 micro grams. Bertone has said that the amount was excessive for a 47-pound child.
Although the original coroner’s report listed the primary causes of death as near drowning and Fragile X syndrome, Bertone reviewed the charts and was suspicious. Brill neglected to record administering the fentanyl.
Bertone says that Hartman “continued to grasp for air” and that Brill gave the pain killer with the intention of “inducing his death.”
The sort of medical decision Brill is accused of is illegal in California. Although UCLA’s policy does permit the use of opioids “in doses that are clinically appropriate to prevent discomfort,” Bertone states that Brill overstepped her authority. The same policy states that “interventions intended to preserve organ function, but which hasten death, are prohibited.”
The questions raised by Bertone’s lawsuit have generated the criminal investigation into Brill’s behavior. Captain William Hayes, administrator of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division has said that the case is “very complicated.”
The examination is one of the rare instances of a criminal investigation into organ harvesting procedures. Although there have been serious accusations against countries like China and Kosovo concerning criminal collections, charges about hastening the death of donor in the U.S. are unusual.
In 2007, a San Francisco surgeon was suspected of using drugs to hurry the process of a patient, but he was acquitted of the charges. Brill’s attorney has denied the allegations for his client, saying they are “offensive” and “wrong.”
Bertone outlined her allegations in a lawsuit filed last month. The county has not yet responded to the claim in court. She is the only full-time pediatric death investigator at the county coroner’s office, a position she’s held for about 15 years.
The police investigation will decide whether Cole Hartman’s death was accidental or deliberate. If Brill exceeded her professional power, she’ll likely face serious punishment for taking the life of a child in order to harvest his organs.