The California Medical Board will investigate two surgeons at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles for performing a liver transplant on a Saudi citizen, passing over the nine patients in their own hospital who were in line for the procedure.
Hospital officials concede the transplant was inappropriate, and that hospital staff falsified documents to cover it up.
The transplant took place in September 2003. The hospital has terminated the programs relationship with the doctors and has placed a temporary halt on liver transplants. It says it has received no explanation from the surgeons for letting the Saudi national cut in line.
Organs are supposed to go to the sickest patients, those most likely to die without a transplant. Allowing wealthy or well-connected patients to cut into line is considered a violation of medical ethics and also of the rules established by the regional networks that manage organ availability.
The hospital does say that the Saudi Arabian Embassy paid the hospital nearly $340,000 for the procedure and recovery care, plus undisclosed fees to the surgeons. That sum is markedly higher than what insurance plans normally pay.
A patient at the UCLA Medical Center was reportedly next in line to receive a liver transplant at the time. The two surgeons, Dr. Richard R. Lopez Jr., the St. Vincent program's former director, and Dr. Hector C. Ramos, the former assistant director, now face a probe by the state medical board.