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Image: Krikor Sarkisyan, Mark Geragos
Matt Sayles  /  AP
Attorney Mark Geragos, left, representing Krikor Sarkisyan, right, and his family, speaks during a news conference in Los Angeles on Dec. 21, 2007.
updated 12/21/2007 6:00:05 PM ET 2007-12-21T23:00:05

The family of a 17-year-old girl who died hours after her health insurer reversed a decision and said it would pay for a liver transplant plans to sue the company, their attorney said Friday.

Nataline Sarkisyan died Thursday at about 6 p.m. at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. She had been in a vegetative state for weeks, said her mother, Hilda.

Attorney Mark Geragos said he plans to ask the district attorney to press murder or manslaughter charges against Cigna HealthCare in the case. The insurer “maliciously killed her” because it did not want to bear the expense of her transplant and aftercare, Geragos said.

District Attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons declined to comment on the request for murder or manslaughter charges, saying it would be inappropriate to do so until Geragos submits evidence supporting his request.

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The family’s “loss is immeasurable, and our thoughts and prayers are with them,” Cigna said in a news release Friday.

“We deeply hope that the outpouring of concern, care and love that are being expressed for Nataline’s family help them at this time,” the company said.

Nataline had been battling leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant from her brother. She developed a complication that caused her liver to fail.

Doctors at UCLA determined she needed a transplant and sent a letter to Cigna Corp.’s Cigna HealthCare on Dec. 11. The Philadelphia-based health insurance company denied payment for the transplant, saying the procedure was experimental and outside the scope of coverage.

The insurer reversed the decision Thursday as about 150 teenagers and nurses rallied outside of its office. But Nataline died hours later.

“They took my daughter away from me,” said Nataline’s father, Krikor, who appeared at the news conference with his 21-year-old son, Bedros.

Despite the reversal, Cigna said in an e-mail statement before she died that there was a lack of medical evidence showing the procedure would work in Nataline’s case.

“Cigna HealthCare has decided to make an exception in this rare and unusual case and we will provide coverage should she proceed with the requested liver transplant,” that statement read.

In their letter, the UCLA doctors said patients in situations similar to Nataline’s who undergo transplants have a six-month survival rate of about 65 percent.

One of the doctors, Robert Venick, declined to comment on the case Friday.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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