Thursday, November 15, 2001

Coroner considers notification policy

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County Coroner Carl L. Parrott said Wednesday he will consider notifying families or funeral homes when his doctors have to retain an organ after an autopsy.

        But the coroner said he believes such a policy would do more harm than good. Still, the coroner promised to talk it over with other county coroners and the Ohio Medical Examiner.

        The family of a 77-year-old Walnut Hills woman has threatened to sue Hamilton County after it found out she was buried in December without her brain.

        Dr. Daniel Schultz, who performed the autopsy, said brains must be retained for a week to 10 days in about 5 percent of the 1,000 autopsies the office performs every year. That's because the organ must be soaked in a formaldehyde solution for that long before it can be dissected.

        “If I had not saved the brain, it would have been medical negligence,” Dr. Schultz said.

        That may be, but attorney Lou Rubenstein says the coroner's office owes notification to families in such cases.

        Dr. Parrott doesn't agree.

        “You already have a family that's suffered a loss,” Dr. Parrott said. “If you put them through the added stress, to me that's inhumane.”

        Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune sides with the family on this one.

        “I think we need to understand how widespread the practice is,” Mr. Portune said.

        “But my preferance would be that the office employ a practice that I believe the public would expect, and that is families of a deceased be treated with the full measure of dignity and respect they're entitled to receive, including being fully informed of all matters pertaining to the handling and care of their deceased loved one.”

        Dr. Randy Hanzlick, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, said local customs on retaining and returning organs vary according to tradition, storage space and the aggressiveness of local lawyers in pursuing lawsuits resulting from questionable deaths.

        The trade organization accredited Dr. Parrott's office and other coroners and medical examiners.

        “It's customary to return most of the organs and tissues with the body for burial,” said Dr. Hanzlick, chief medical examiner for Fulton County, Ga., in Atlanta.

        Dr. Hanzlick said he knows of no requirement to notify a family that organs have been retained after an autopsy.

       The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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