Thursday, October 10, 2002

Coroner accused of keeping body parts

Women's lawsuit claims brains kept without permission

By The Associated Press

Two women who say relatives' brains were kept by the Hamilton County coroner after autopsies were conducted are suing to stop the practice without families' permission.

Their lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, says the practice violates court rulings that families have rights to the body parts.

The coroner, Carl L. Parrott Jr., who is listed as a defendant, and other doctors who lead national and state coroners' associations have said that removing and keeping brains and other body parts is sound medical practice in investigating causes of death and terminal illnesses.

The lawsuit's plaintiffs are Kathy Hainey, of Ellettsville, Ind., and Debra A. Singler, of Cincinnati. Ms. Hainey's son and Ms. Singler's father died in 2000 and underwent autopsies by the Hamilton County coroner's office. The women did not learn the men's brains had been removed until after they were buried, the lawsuit says.

Coroners' associations have said it would be time-consuming and difficult to obtain permission from grieving families for removal of body parts. Without having body parts available for medical analysis and sampling, investigations of causes of death could suffer, the coroners said.

In December 2001, Charles Pruitt urged the coroner to inform families about organ removal after his mother's brain was taken out during an autopsy without the family's knowledge.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday asks for unspecified damages and requests class-action status on behalf of other families whose relatives' body parts were removed by the coroner since 1991.

The lawsuit also lists the three county commissioners as defendants.

Telephone messages left after business hours at the offices of Dr. Parrott, county Administrator David Krings and Tom Neyer, president of the board of county commissioners, were not returned. Dr. Parrott also did not return a message left at his home.

Attorney John Metz, who represents the women, filed a similar lawsuit in 1989 to challenge a former Hamilton County coroner's practice of removing corneas for transplants without permission. That lawsuit led to a ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991 that families have an enforceable “property interest” in the bodies of loved ones.

According to the earlier lawsuit, the corneas had been taken from 601 corpses on which autopsies were conducted by former Hamilton County Coroner Frank Cleveland between 1985 and 1990. The county and an eye bank reached a $5.25 million settlement to resolve the lawsuit.

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