County Seeks Exclusion from Law on Autopsies

October 11, 2008

Author: Liz Austin Peterson

Source: The Houston Chronicle

Orthodox Jews and others whose religion forbids most autopsies no longer would be able to contest the need for such a procedure under a proposal the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office would like to submit to the Texas Legislature.

A Harris County district court judge barred the coroner from performing an autopsy on a man who killed himself last year, citing a Texas religious freedom law.

The medical examiner's office wants to be excluded from that law in the future, saying it is inappropriate for a judge or clergy member to be able to overrule a coroner's decision.

"When you start questioning the person who's trained in that area because of these types of religious concerns, you're getting into a dangerous area," Assistant County Attorney Barbara Callistien said. "You're allowing individuals who aren't trained in clinical forensic science to second guess the expert."

But Orthodox rabbis, who adhere to the belief that autopsies should only be conducted in rare cases, such as when a crime has been committed, said they would strongly oppose such a change.