(CN) – Coroners can remove organs during an autopsy without notifying the deceased person’s loved ones, the 6th Circuit ruled, rejecting a class action filed by an Ohio couple who said the practice violated their due-process rights.
Mark and Diane Albrecht sued on behalf of families whose deceased relatives “were returned to them missing tissues or organs,” according to the ruling.
The Cincinnati-based appeals court ruled that the families have no protected property interest in the dead bodies.
“Here, the Albrechts had no property rights on which the state could infringe,” Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood wrote for the appellate panel, because there was a legitimate investigative purpose for the brain removal.
A corner examined the brain as part of an investigation into 30-year-old Christopher Albrecht’s death from drowning after an epileptic seizure.
“When the body was returned to the Albrechts, they were not informed that the coroner had retained the brain for further study and that it would be destroyed once the investigation was complete,” according to the ruling.
The parents argued that the removal and destruction of their son’s brain, without their knowledge or consent, deprived them of their right to dispose of the brain how they saw fit.
But the federal appeals court disagreed.
“Removal and retention of tissues or organs for forensic analysis in furtherance of a criminal investigation serves an important state function, which is paramount to the Albrechts’ right to possess their son’s body in its entirety,” Hood wrote, upholding a federal judge’s ruling for the Clermont County coroner and various county officials.
The Albrechts’ attorney, John Metz, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Once the cause of death is determined,” he said, coroners “no longer have any right to keep that body or any part of it.”