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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Widow Handed Setback |in Bid to Block Autopsy

(CN) - A Texas appeals court dissolved an order blocking a suicide victim's autopsy on the grounds that it violated his Jewish Orthodox beliefs. The judges remanded for further review, saying the decedent's widow failed to clearly establish that her husband was a practicing Orthodox Jew.

The lower court blocked Dr. Luis Sanchez, the medical examiner, from investigating the cause of 54-year-old Yahya Saghian's death.

Saghian suffered from depression, and his rabbi testified that Saghian "stated very explicitly to me that he was going to take his own life."

Saghian was found dead, with empty pill bottles around his body. Police ruled his death a suicide. His wife, Afsaneh, got a restraining order to block the autopsy, claiming the procedure would violate the tenets of their religious beliefs.

The First Texas District Court of Appeal in Houston ruled that, as the county medical examiner, Sanchez has the discretion to decide whether an autopsy is necessary.

Writing for the court, Judge Hanks also ruled that Afsaneh did not prove that her religious freedom had been violated.

"We are extremely sympathetic to the fact that Mrs. Saghian was in mourning at the time of the hearings and that she may not have been available to provide live testimony establishing her and her husband's adherence to all of the religious beliefs set forth in the various rabbis' testimony," the judge wrote.

"However, we note that her personal appearance at the hearings would not have been the only method of establishing these facts, and that these facts are vital if courts are to perform the particularized, intensive analysis required by the [Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act]," Hanks ruled.

The court dissolved the temporary restraining order and remanded the case for further review.

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