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S.F. No. 1694 - Religious Objections to Autopsies (Third Engrossment)
 
Author: Senator Tony Lourey
 
Prepared By: Katie Cavanor, Senate Counsel (651/296-3801)
 
Date: May 12, 2015



 

Section 1 (390.005, subd. 6) requires a coroner or medical examiner to maintain and make public the policy or principles used for communicating with a surviving relative regarding the investigation of a dead body.

Sections 2 and 3 (390.11) add references in existing law governing autopsies to the new provisions on religious objections to an autopsy contained in section 4.

Section 4 (390.11, subd. 2b) establishes a procedure and standards for a religious objection to an autopsy.

Paragraph (a) defines the following terms: compelling state interest; religious beliefs; religious grounds; and representative of the decedent.

Paragraph (b) requires a coroner or medical examiner, as soon as possible but no more than 24 hours after discovery of the decedent’s body, to give written or verbal notice to the representative of the decedent of the intended autopsy and written materials or a Web site explaining the death investigation process and the law governing religious objections.  An autopsy must not be performed if the representative objects on religious grounds unless there is a compelling state interest.

Paragraph (c) provides that if a representative does not object, the autopsy may be performed without delay.

Paragraph (d) states if the representative of the decedent objects on religious grounds, the autopsy must not be performed unless the coroner or medical examiner determines that there is a compelling state interest to perform the autopsy. The coroner or medical examiner may require the representative to present an affidavit stating the person’s relationship to the decedent, the religious affiliation of the decedent, that the decedent has a religious objection and the basis of the belief, and that the representative will assume responsibility for the lawful disposition of the body of the deceased. 

Paragraph (e) provides that if the coroner or medical examiner determines that a compelling state interest specifically listed in the definition exists, the autopsy may proceed without delay.

Paragraph (f) authorizes the district court to waive the 24-hour notice period upon ex parte motion if it is determined that the delay may prejudice the accuracy of the autopsy or threaten public health.

Paragraph (g) permits a coroner or medical examiner to bring an action in district court for an order to authorize the autopsy, if the coroner or medical examiner determines that there is a compelling state interest under circumstances that are not specifically listed in the definition of a compelling state interest and there has been an objection based on religious grounds by a representative of the decedent.  The action must be brought by a notice to show cause served on the representative or, if not available, on another party as directed by the court.  The proceeding must be determined summarily on the oral and written proof submitted by the parties.  The court must grant the relief sought if it finds that the coroner or medical examiner demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the autopsy is necessary and that need outweighs observing the decedent’s religious beliefs.  If the court denies the petition and no stay is granted, the body must be immediately released for burial.

Paragraph (h) specifies that any autopsy performed after a religious objection has been made must be the least intrusive procedure consistent with the compelling state interest.

Paragraph (i) provides that a coroner or medical examiner is not liable for failure to perform an autopsy if there is an objection on religious grounds.

Paragraph (j) authorizes the filing of investigative data under seal as part of any court proceeding.

Paragraph (k) provides that actions or determinations of a coroner or medical examiner under this subdivision are exempt from the Administrative Procedures Act.

Sections 5 and 6 (390.32) add references in existing law to the new provisions in section 4.

 
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