Monday, October 19, 2015


Many years ago, a member of my family died under unusual circumstances. An autopsy was performed by the NYC Medical Examiner. But I was not aware of the procedures and policies as confirmed by the Court of Appeal this June in Shipley v. City of New York, 2015 NY Slip Op 4791 (COA NY 2015).

Here is a summary of the case from JUSTIA:

"Jesse Shipley (the decedent), a seventeen-year-old high school student, was killed in an automobile accident. During an authorized autopsy, the medical examiner removed, among other organs, the decedent’s brain, fixed it in formalin, and placed it in the autopsy room for further examination by a neuropathologist. The decedent’s body was subsequently retrieved from the mortuary, and a funeral was held. Approximately three months later, the decedent’s family discovered that the decedent’s brain had been retained by the medical examiner. Plaintiffs, the decedent’s family, commenced this action against the City of New York alleging negligent infliction of emotional distress resulting from the mishandling and withholding of their son’s brain. Supreme Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for a directed verdict as to liability. After a trial, Plaintiffs were awarded $1 million in damages. That amount was subsequently reduced. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a medical examiner is not legally required to notify next of kin that organs, tissues or other specimens have been removed from the body during a lawful autopsy and retained by the medical examiner after such an autopsy."

Thus, when faced with this unfortunate situation and preparing for funeral, one must immediately inquire to the examiner as to what was done and what can be returned.

NOTE: How did the Shipley family know that their son's brain was retained by the medical examiner? After Jesse's death, "forensic science students from decedent's high school took a field trip to the Richmond County Mortuary. During a tour of the autopsy room, some of the students observed the specimen jar holding decedent's brain. This information was relayed to decedent's sister, Shannon, who told her parents."

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