Supreme Court Refuses To Block Case Against L.A. County Coroner for Removing Corneas from Dead Children
The Supreme Court yesterday refused to block a lawsuit alleging that the Los Angeles County Coroner's office improperly removed the corneas of dead children without first obtaining consent, the AP/Columbia State reports (AP/Columbia State, 11/18). The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in April ruled that the coroner's office should have obtained permission from parents in California and Pennsylvania before they harvested and sold the corneas of their deceased sons. 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." That ruling 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 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 (California Healthline, 4/18). Attorneys for the county argued that hospital staff and coroners will be hesitant to harvest tissue or organs for fear of lawsuits if the case is allowed to proceed. "The lifesaving and life-enhancing benefits from organ and tissue donation will necessarily be jeopardized," county attorney Cheryl Orr wrote in her brief to the court. The attorney for the parents of the deceased children is seeking class-action status for the case and said the class could include as many as 7,000 families of children whose corneas were removed after they died (AP/Columbia State, 11/18).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.