Appeals Court Rules State Coroners Must Have Permission from Parents to Remove Corneas from Deceased Children
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Tuesday that the Los Angeles County coroner should have obtained permission from parents in California and Pennsylvania before he harvested and sold the corneas of their deceased sons, the Los Angeles Times reports. In a 2-1 decision, Judge Raymond Fisher wrote that the coroner's office "infringed the dignity of the bodies of the children when it extracted the corneas from those bodies without the consent of the parents." The court reversed the decision of U.S. District Judge Spencer Letts, who dismissed the case after attorneys for the coroner's office argued that a 1983 state law passed to facilitate organ transplants allowed the coroner to harvest the corneas without parental consent. The law allowed coroners to remove corneas after autopsies in cases where they had "no knowledge of objection to the removal." The Times reports that the Los Angeles County coroner's office had sold thousands of corneas to a Los Angeles eye bank for $215 to $335 per pair before the state passed a new law in 1998 that requires coroners to obtain permission from relatives before they remove corneas for transplants. The appeals court decision will allow two parents in California and Pennsylvania, whose sons died in California in 1997, to sue for damages in Los Angeles federal court for "deprivation of property without due process of law." Judge Ferdinand Fernandez dissented in the case, arguing that state law establishes only a duty to dispose of the body of a deceased family member, "not a constitutional right to possess it" (Weinstein, Los Angeles Times, 4/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.