Saturday, October 2, 2010

Autopsy specimen

There are 2 sides to this story, and a New York judge has just ruled that the dispute can be settled in court.

From the perspective of the New York City Medical Examiner's Office:
A 17-year-old African-American male living in Staten Island was killed by crushing injuries in an auto accident on 1 Jan 2005. Consent for an autopsy was obtained from the victim's father. The postmortem was performed and the remains were released to the funeral home the same day. The medical examiner's office is accused of failure to inform the Shipleys that they had removed and retained Jesse's brain, violating their right of sepulcher. The retention of the organ came to light during a visit to the morgue by the classmates of the decedent's sister. "In what can only be described as a surreal coincidence, the label on the jar indicated that the brain was that of Jesse Shipley, a circumstance which evoked strong emotional reactions from some of the students who were present." The office had retained the brain to perform further neuropathologic examination, which was scheduled shortly after the class field trip. Although this was 2 months after Jesse Shipley's death, the analysis was pending the accumulation of 6 brains to warrant the trip of an examiner from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to Staten Island.

From the perspective of the Shipley family:
Beloved son and brother Jesse, a Port Richmond High School student, lost his life in a car crash on January 9th, 2005. Jesse's father gave permission for an autopsy. Three days after his death, Jesse's funeral was held. When classmates of Jesse's sister Shannon - who had also been injured in the accident - went on a field trip to the Richmond County Mortuary 2 months later, they noticed a human brain suspended in formaldehyde. They were stunned and sickened to see that the label on the jar read "Jesse Shipley." News of the macabre discovery soon spread to Shannon Shipley, who told her parents. The Shipleys petitioned for the return of their son's brain, held a 2nd funeral, and sued the city and the M.E.'s office for not returning all of Jesse's remains.

While the M.E.'s office has the statutory authority to retain organs for further examination and testing, they are obligated to release them to the next of kin for burial once the legitimate purposes for retaining them have been fulfilled, concluded a judicial panel, allowing the lawsuit to go forward. In question is whether the defendants had properly advised the family when the body was released that one or more organs had been removed for further study. "This requirement, hardly onerous in nature, strikes an appropriate balance between the fulfillment of the legitimate scientific and investigative duties of the Medical Examiner's Office and the recognition of the long-established rights of next of kin to receive and provide final repose to the remains of their loved ones," said the judge in his ruling. But the family also wonders whether the brain had been lawfully retained for scientific purposes in light of the fact that the cause of death was known. The court denied the Shipleys' motion to sue for additional damages arising from what they alleged was the brain's public display. The specimen was in a cabinet with other organs and had not been mishandled.

1st image) A set from the "Preserved Specimens and Specimen Jars" collection that can be rented from B.J. Winslow Prop Rentals and Fabrication in Los Angeles, 2nd image) Mr. and Mrs. Andre Shipley, 3rd image) Jesse Shipley.

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