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Coroner bill dies by Assembly committee

By rgordon
Thursday, May 31st, 2007 at 8:13 pm in Uncategorized.

The bill that would have required coroners to notify next of kin when they retain the body parts of a deceased loved one appears to have met its own untimely ending, at least for now.

Cause of death? Committee.

Assembly Bill 1054, authored by Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, was held by the State Assembly Committee on Appropriations today due to “significant reimbursable mandated annual General Fund costs to county coroners, likely in excess of $5 million, for specified notification requirements, and for the return of body parts, which would require refrigerated storage space and additional staff.”

“The opposition wanted us to limit the bill to just notification and I thought families deserved more,” Mullin said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that costs to the state should override the ability of families to make decisions about the final disposition of their loved ones.”

The bill was opposed by the California State Coroners’ Association, the California State Sheriffs’ Association, and the California District Attorneys Association.

Mullin’s camp explained the details of the bill this way:

AB 1054 would have required coroners to notify next of kin of their authority to retain parts of the body, seek consent from the next of kin and then offer to return organs after the coroner has made a determination as to the circumstances, cause, manner and mode of certain deaths. The bill would not require a coroner to provide this information if, in the opinion of the coroner, providing notification or an offer to return an organ would compromise the integrity of an ongoing or expected criminal investigation or would constitute a public health hazard.

His office said they will look to move the bill again in January.

Mullin took up the bill largely at the urging of Daly City resident Selina Picon. The mother of 23-year-old Nicholas Picon, who died of a heart defect in October, she was infuriated upon learning her son’s body had been returned to her family from the county Coroner – and then interred – sans his heart.

She decried Coroner Robert Foucrault’s conduct and lobbied the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to require coroners to notify families that they may retain body parts. Mullin picked up the cause and turned it into a bill proposal.

But things took a sour turn, with Picon feeling that officials were giving her nothing more than lip service. In April, she filed a claim against the county, the usual precursor to a lawsuit. Picon also took issue with the use of the word “parts” instead of “tissues” in the bill’s language, as well as a clause in the bill that would exempt coroners from civil liability. She testified as such before the appropriations committee two weeks ago.

Regardless of the bill’s demise, the county will follow the intent of the bill. A county policy approved at the supervisors’ May 22 meeting will require the coroner to inform next-of-kin whenever retention of an organ is needed and offer to return organs when no longer needed to determine the cause of death.

Picon had mixed feelings about the bill’s death today, and said she spent much of the day crying.

“Seeing it killed was very hard for me, because I worked so hard for it,” Picon said.

But at the same time, she said she was relieved the bill didn’t pass containing the tenets she disagreed with.

“I really believe it wasn’t passed because they did listen to my statement,” Picon said. “I’m kind of glad it didn’t go through with those words but at the same time I’m very disappointed that the bill got killed.”

She is certain her fight will not stop here. Disappointed with her representation by Mullin, she said she will try to take the bill to State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, next year.

“Now I know the ins and outs. Now I’m going to lobby. I’m not going to the let the coroners get away with it,” Picon said. “Most definitely I’m going to keep fighting. To me, it’s the principle.”

Previously: Picon: Talk to my attorney and Coroner clarification

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