Medicine

Ohio Court to Decide Who Owns Your Body Parts?

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Potentially big case brewing in the Buckeye State:

During an autopsy, the Hamilton County coroner removed Christopher Albrecht's brain and never put it back—a common practice for coroners.

But when Albrecht's parents learned years later that they had buried him without a brain, they filed a lawsuit that raises ethical, moral and religious questions about the treatment of one's body after death.

The case, to be argued Wednesday before the Ohio Supreme Court, has drawn international attention for its ramifications to coroners, crime investigators, EMTs, funeral directors and followers of religions that espouse the importance of burying the whole body.

The Albrechts argue that they had a right under the Ohio Constitution to their son's brain, and a right under the U.S. Constitution to reclaim the brain before it was destroyed. The lawsuit is a class action suit against coroners and commissioners in 87 of Ohio's 88 counties covering cases dating to 1991.

Under Ohio law, brains, hearts and other body parts and fluids removed during an autopsy are classified as medical waste, which generally means they are incinerated after use.

More info here.

reason readers know that there's a huge after-market in human tissue and other remains–a market that benefits just about everybody except the donor body. Read "Who Owns Your Body Parts?" And read the case for openly selling human organs.

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  1. If your brain has been incinerated, can you still come back as a zombie? If you can, will blowing your head off still “kill” you?

  2. Before they routinely incinerate brains and hearts and what not, do they at least use them in some form of medical research? It would be a waste otherwise.

    As for the religions that require the body to be buried whole, what happens if the death is caused by incineration?

  3. From the article:

    In a brief, the Medical Examiners Association said material from a dead body is almost always lost. Bodies lose fluids at accident scenes and parts of some bodies are never found, the group said.

    It argued that material taken by coroners is being singled out unfairly in this case.

    I think this is the crucial question: what’s the difference between the CSU collecting body pieces or fluids at the scene and the coroner collecting organs later on?

    Like they said, should you get the bloodstained carpet samples back to?

    Why would you want it, anyway?

  4. There’s an another interesting angle on this issue in Britain right now, with a growing campaign for ‘opt-out’ organ donation; it could precipitate one hell of a fight once the question gets to parliament.

  5. Nick,

    “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” would have been a far better headline.

    Better luck next post.

  6. “There’s nothing wrong with this brain!”

  7. The Albrechts argue that they had a right under the Ohio Constitution to their son’s brain, and a right under the U.S. Constitution to reclaim the brain before it was destroyed.

    That must be one of those implied rights I hear so much about. Unless it’s from one of the Black Amendments, which exist on only one copy of the Constitution (the one that’s kept in a sealed vault under the National Archives and never, never put on display) and are only legible under the light of a full moon.

  8. I know that the vestiges of ‘spirituality’ dictate that we treat body parts differently than other evidence collected in a potential crime scene, but strict emotionalism should not dictate governmental policy.

    If we allow the state to take control of, seize and collect evidence at crime scenes, I’m failing to see why the body IN said crime scene should be treated any differently.

  9. If retaining your organs after death so that they can rot in a box is that important to you, you will mention it in your will.

  10. That must be one of those implied rights I hear so much about.

    A common fallacy is that the Constitution grants rights. This is only true in that it grants the rights citizens have when dealing with the government.

    But, as they say, the enumeration of some rights does not mean that others do not exist.

  11. I also heard that a woman named “Abby Normal” is missing her brain. I wonder where it went?

  12. I also heard that a woman named “Abby Normal” is missing her brain. I wonder where it went?

    Waka waka waka…

  13. Can’t we simply declare some people’s religious beliefs too stupid to deal with and ignore them? “OH NOES WE’VE GOT TO BURY THE WHOLE BODY!” Honestly? You filed a lawsuit over that? Dude’s dead, he doesn’t care, and thinking it matters is so facile that I have a hard time not laughing.

  14. ajay:

    That must be one of those implied rights I hear so much about.

    How about “No state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …” (Amendment XIV)? Is that one of those “black amendments”?

  15. You can take my brain from my cold, dead hands.

  16. Why would you want it, anyway?

    Ted Williams

  17. The parents should have objected to the autopsy before it happened. What the hell did they think was gonna happen? Did they think their son was going to be in pristine condition after he had a huge Y-incision down his chest and his calvarium removed? The whole class-action thing wreaks of trying to hit the jackpot in the litigious lotto, and banishes any sympathy I might have had for these people.
    And it is a good thing you placed a question mark after the whole “Ohio Court to Decide who Owns Your Body Parts?”. Ohio is not claiming to own bodies of the deceased, they are merely defending standard pathological procedures against people looking to become millionaires.
    After reading your ridiculously sensationalistic take on this case, it is little wonder people refer to libertarians as chicken-littles who wouldn’t know pragmatism if it ran over them in a bus.

  18. I find many of these responses amusing for their reflexive anti-religousity. After all, what we have here is people exerting their property rights over the dead body of a family member against government regulations that may or may not serve a useful health purpose.

    I personally think its a bit silly (I’m not too worried about what might happen to my body once I’m done with it), but find nothing especially onerous in the idea of replacing large organs post autopsy — its not like the coroner is expected to stitch them back in perfectly after all, and the part and the body are going to be right there in the same room in most cases.

    Obviously this could be taken to ridiculous extremes (replacing hair samples and the like), and there is a legit question about the need for a class action suit, but if the family wants the parts of its loved one, it should be up to the government to make the case for why they can’t have them, not the other way around.

  19. Jammer, don’t you know it’s “standard pathological procedures”? You can’t just go changing arbitrarily set procedures to satisfy thousands of years of hokus-pokus traditions- it wouldn’t be pragmatic.

  20. Take out service for Jeffrey Dahmer?

  21. If they just said “hokus pokus” maybe the brain would reappear. Or they could pray, but that never seems to work. What to do?

  22. Scooby, are you agreeing with me or disagreeing? Or taking shots at both sides? All of the above?

    Sometimes its hard to tell. 🙂

  23. I fail to understand why wanting all of the body that arrived at the coroner to be released when the coroner is finished is considered foolish. Those are parts of the deceased why should they not be returned to the dead, Would it be equally acceptable if they took off the left leg at the knee and didn’t reattach it, what about the head?

    As for pragmatism generally when the body is released from the coroner the giant Y incision is, you know, sown back up creating a bag of sorts which one may consider suited to placing excised organ in, it being an organ cavity and all. The top of the skull is also often affixed, you know making a sort of box what you could put the brain in, a brain box. Its not unreasonable to require the parts they remove to be placed within the body.

  24. Irate Pirate has it exactly right.

    The parents may be irrational to worry about such things, but by any reasonable libertarian standards, Christopher Albrecht owned his brain and it passed to his parents as part of his estate.

    What ever happened to self-ownership? The government shouldn’t be taking their property, end of story.

    And while the coroner can’t put the body back together the way it was, he can certainly throw all the parts back inside. That’s what a lot of them do. With the lungs deflated and fluids drained, there’s plenty of room.

  25. Caveat, I am a pathologist.

    Jammer:

    I personally think its a bit silly (I’m not too worried about what might happen to my body once I’m done with it), but find nothing especially onerous in the idea of replacing large organs post autopsy — its not like the coroner is expected to stitch them back in perfectly after all, and the part and the body are going to be right there in the same room in most cases.

    Scooby:

    Jammer, don’t you know it’s “standard pathological procedures”? You can’t just go changing arbitrarily set procedures to satisfy thousands of years of hokus-pokus traditions- it wouldn’t be pragmatic.

    The top of the skull is also often affixed, you know making a sort of box what you could put the brain in, a brain box. Its not unreasonable to require the parts they remove to be placed within the body.

    Proper examination of the brain requires that it be fixed in 20% formalin for at least 10 days. The delay usually precludes reunion with the remainder of the corporeal shell before the funeral.

  26. What ever happened to self-ownership? The government shouldn’t be taking their property, end of story.

    My understanding, and this may vary state to state, is that no one owns a dead body. Certain people may have rights or obligations as to its deposition, but the owner is, shall we say, absent.

  27. That should be “disposition” not “deposition.”

  28. “Before they routinely incinerate brains and hearts and what not, do they at least use them in some form of medical research? It would be a waste otherwise.”

    Or at the very least, they could play “Chuck Norris” and pretend to rip people’s hearts out or use the brains for cyborg research and build Terminator Robots.

  29. “My understanding, and this may vary state to state, is that no one owns a dead body. Certain people may have rights or obligations as to its deposition, but the owner is, shall we say, absent.”

    I know, but it’s often the case that enforcing property rights leads to a fair and just outcome, and this sounds like one of them.

    Given what you say about how the brain is handled, this sounds like something of a communication issue. Maybe somebody should have told the parents the body was incomplete and given them the option of waiting for the missing parts to be returned before the body was buried. Or at least told them that some body parts were destroyed by the autopsy process, or whatever. Although some people wouldn’t want to hear about all that…

  30. When I die, I want my brain in formaldehyde on someone’s mantle.

  31. Caveat, I am a pathologist.

    Tacos, I’m pretty sure there is some sort of internet rule that states that people with actual knowledge of the topic are not allowed to participate.

    /seriously though, interesting data

  32. Brandybuck,

    I have a mantle. Are you in anyone’s death pool? Odds?

    (not sure my wife would like it, maybe we’ll have to find a jar that fits our color scheme)

  33. Given what you say about how the brain is handled, this sounds like something of a communication issue. Maybe somebody should have told the parents the body was incomplete and given them the option of waiting for the missing parts to be returned before the body was buried. Or at least told them that some body parts were destroyed by the autopsy process, or whatever. Although some people wouldn’t want to hear about all that…

    It is universally the case where I have worked that the next of kin is notified if whole organs are to be retained. My guess is that it is standard procedure in Ohio as well, however, either the procedure wasn’t followed, or the family doesn’t recall – not an uncommon phenomenon in the shock following a death.

    I know, but it’s often the case that enforcing property rights leads to a fair and just outcome, and this sounds like one of them.

    You would simply be trading one controversy for another when someone decides that because they own their dead wife’s body, they should be able to eat it, or stuff in and place it in a corner of the parlor. While I can’t imagine the deceased individual would suffer, as it stands, our society has decided that there are only a number of appropriate things that one should do with a dead body, and as such, has granted more limited rights than full ownership.

  34. The whole class-action thing wreaks of trying to hit the jackpot in the litigious lotto,…

    Now that you mention it, it does.

  35. The whole class-action thing wreaks of trying to hit the jackpot in the litigious lotto,…

    It is a rare class action case where this isn’t true.

  36. Maybe Gallagher should have access to all deceased organs.

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