New York, N.Y. – In an extremely unsettling ruling, a New York appeals court has ruled that your family members' organs can be kept by the medical examiner without having to notify the family of the deceased.
The divisive ruling left the seven-member appeals court divided 5-2, with all justices wanting the state legislature to ultimately decide the issue.
The morbid case ensued after a New York medical examiner, doing a routine autopsy on 17-year-old vehicular accident victim Jesse Shipley, kept the brain of the teenager, only to have it be discovered by classmates on a school field trip two months later.
The organ was only discovered after a classmate of Shipley’s, on a field trip to the Staten Island morgue, noticed a brain in a jar of formaldehyde type fluid labeled with Shipley’s name on the outside of the container. The classmate then informed Shipley’s sister Shannon.
The right to claim the remains of deceased loved ones harkens back to old English common law and is called the “right of sepulcher,” according to The Guardian.
Although his parents did agree to have an autopsy done, in which the brain is removed, they were completely taken by surprise to find out that the body of their child, released to them by the medical examiner, and eventually buried, was missing the brain.
The brain was eventually returned to the family and they then held a second funeral for their son. The family then sued the city for emotional distress, citing that they should have been made aware that their son’s brain had permanently removed from the body.
The family was initially awarded $1 million in damages, after the court ruled that the medical examiner had no right to keep their son’s brain. That amount eventually was reduced to $600,000.
Recommended for You
The lack of humanity espoused in the majority opinion is absurd.
"There is simply no legal directive that requires a medical examiner to return organs or tissue samples derived from a lawful autopsy and retained by the medical examiner after such an autopsy," Eugene F Pigott Jr. wrote. "It is the act of depriving the next of kin of the body, and not the deprivation of organ or tissue samples within the body, that constitutes a violation of the right of sepulcher."
If there is no legal directive, perhaps common sense should serve to inform medical examiners that returning the organs of deceased loved ones, along with the body, should always be done unless otherwise directly agreed to by the family.
The two dissenting justices, chief justice Johnathan Lippman and judge Jenny Rivera, made clear that they disagreed strongly with the majority opinion.
"The majority suggests that any change in the rights of the next of kin should come from the legislature,” they wrote. “That is indeed so because the majority has interpreted the law as applied to cases involving an autopsy in such a way as to deny the next of kin the right to demand return of their loved one in as undisturbed a condition as possible," Lippman and Rivera wrote in the dissenting opinion.
The words of the dissenting justices should serve as an alarm as to the severe infringement upon individuals liberties.
"Perhaps the majority’s ruling will result in greater awareness of the right of sepulcher. Even so, for those who indeed know enough to seek the return of the deceased’s organs, the majority provides no ‘solace and comfort’ and little assurance that their request will be honored by the medical examiner."
What kind of crazy world do we live in when judges find that “the law” allows agents of the state to remove organs of deceased family members without ever notifying them of it having been done?
Is nothing sacred in police state USA?
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, free thinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay's work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.