Court: Coroners Don't Have to Return Bodies With All Their Parts

Parents buried son, learned of brain in a jar months later
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 11, 2015 1:05 PM CDT
Court: Coroners Don't Have to Return Bodies With All Their Parts

Families who bury loved ones whose body has been looked at by a medical examiner may not be burying their whole bodies. And New York's highest court ruled yesterday that it's OK. The unusual case involves the death of 17-year-old Jesse Shipley of New York City in a 2005 car crash, reports the AP. After his parents buried him, classmates visiting the morgue on a field trip months later noticed his name on a jar with a brain inside. His parents got it back, had a second burial, and sued the city. They won $600,000 in court, but yesterday's ruling by the state's Court of Appeals reversed that, reports Capital New York.

"At most, a medical examiner's determination to return only the body without notice that organs and tissue samples are being retained is discretionary," wrote Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. for the majority. "Therefore, no tort liability can be imposed for either the violation of the common-law right of sepulcher or public health law." A dissenting judge argued that the practice violates age-old customs and beliefs about funeral rites, but Elie Mystal at Above the Law thinks the majority got it right. "We don’t have a law that says you have to put back what you can legally take out, and we probably shouldn’t," he writes. "Sometimes, that organ stuff is evidence. Other times, it’s science. Even when it’s not those things, the dead person is dead already." (More autopsy stories.)

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