A Staten Island couple has been given the right to sue the city for keeping their deceased son’s brain, according to a ruling from Brooklyn’s New York Appellate Division. Consider this something that we will now worry about when we can’t sleep at night.
Jesse Shipley, a 17-year-old Staten Island high schooler, was killed in 2005 in a car accident. His family agreed to an autopsy, which was completed; his remains were picked up by a funeral home; a funeral was held.
Flash forward two months when classmates of his sister took a field trip to the Richmond County Mortuary (really, a field trip?). Several of them noticed a jar, holding a human brain, with a label on the jar indicating it was Jesse Shipley’s.
Whoa. This got back to folks, including Jesse’s parents, who started asking questions. The office said they’d kept the brain for further testing, and, well, there was an sort of “efficiency” situation going on…
The acting deputy chief medical examiner later testified, “I wait months, until I have six brains, and then it’s kind of worth [the examiner’s] while to make the trip to Staten Island to examine six brains. It doesn’t make sense for him to come and do one.”
The Shipleys got the brain back, had another funeral, and in 2006 sued the city for damages. Per this ruling, it was determined that if the medical examiner is going to remove a brain (or other organs) and hang onto them for a while, he or she needs to actually tell the next of kin about it. And:
“[W]hile the medical examiner has the statutory authority…to remove and retain bodily organs for further examination and testing in connection therewith, he or she also has the mandated obligation…to turn over the decedent’s remains to the next of kin for preservation and proper burial once the legitimate purposes for the retention of those remains have been fulfilled,” Justice William F. Mastro wrote for a unanimous panel in Shipley v. City of New York, 2009-03226.