A Superior Court judge has ruled that the Massachusetts Promotion of Anatomical Science Act does not immunize doctors from liability if they implant a diseased organ into a donee. Nelson Gonzalez’s liver was failing and he needed a transplant. Doctors implanted a liver that turns out to have been riddled with cancer.
The donor had died of brain cancer and the doctors who used the donor’s liver failed to detect that the cancer had metastatized to the liver. Tragically, the cancer spread throught Mr. Gonzalez’s body, killing him. When his wife sued, claiming that the risk of accepting organs from the donor was unacceptably high, and that the doctors were negligent in the analysis of his liver, the doctors claimed that they were protected from suit by the Promotion of Anatomical Science Act, a law designed to encourage organ donations. The law, based on the federal Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, adopted in 29 states, immunizes individuals or organizations that “act in good faith” under the Act. In ruling that the good faith clause did not immunize the doctors from suit, Judge Peter Agnes held that the purpose of the immunity clause was to protect against lawsuits from family members of donors who believed that their deceased’s wishes were not respected. The Legislature never intended, the judge ruled, to supersede the general law of medical malpractice. The case of Estate of Nelson Gonzalez v. Katz, et al. will be allowed to go forward. While the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled on the organ donation statute, it did not address the issues in the Gonzalez case.