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Man's Liver Donation to Save Brother's Life Produces Law to Protect Living Donors

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Michael Hurewitz chose to give a portion of his liver to save his brother’s life. Unfortunately, that decision ended his own life after he suffered horribly from an infection after the procedure. However, his tragedy is prompting health professionals and regulators to adopt protections for living donors who may make an emotional decision to help a family member or other loved one.

Hurewitz, an athletic and productive Times Union newspaper reporter, died three days from a horrible infection after doctors at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center removed 60% of his liver. Subsequently, the state fined Mt. Sinai and the hospital temporarily stopped performing liver transplants. Furthermore, the hospital also settled a wrongful death suit with Michael’s widow, Victoria Hurewitz, for $2.5 million in 2003.

The Hurewitz case received nationwide attention, thanks in large part to Victoria’s activism after her husband’s death. Since reaching its peak in 2001, live liver transplants have fallen by 50% nationally, as changes in the healthcare system emphasized the fact that doctors needed to focus on more than just the patient in need of a donor organ. In fact, New York was the first state to create a donor advocacy program that ensures a sick patient isn’t the sole focus, and that the donor’s health is also taken into serious consideration. Moreover, the New York standards have become the template for national rules, according to Dr. David J. Conti, a transplant specialist at Albany Medical College. Since 2004, it is a federal law to require an advocate to work with a proposed donor, ensuring the donor knows of potential risks prior to surgery. As Victoria stated, the new law ensures that a donor will no longer be treated as a “living cadaver”.