Assemblyman Gary S. Schaer has introduced legislation to ensure that any autopsy that must be performed in New Jersey is done so while recognizing the religious beliefs of the deceased and their families.
“Certain religions view an internal examination as invasive and would object to its use during an autopsy. This bill would also take into account the timeframe for burial required by certain religions,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Our intention is to accommodate the needs of the law while being sensitive to the religious beliefs of the deceased and their family members.”
Specifically, the bill (A-4135) would amend current law to require the courts to make a determination no later than 24 hours after an action is filed by a state medical examiner for an order authorizing an autopsy or dissection over the religious objections of a decedent’s immediate family.
Currently, any action filed by a medical examiner for an order authorizing an autopsy or dissection over a religious objection is determined summarily upon the petition or proof offered by the parties involved but the law does not establish a maximum specific timeframe for such determination.
The bill would also amend current law to clarify that if there is a compelling public interest to perform an autopsy or dissection over the religious objections of the decedent’s family, the least intrusive procedure would be used, which would consist of a virtual autopsy. The virtual autopsy would be performed before any other procedure, including an internal examination of the body.
As defined in the bill, a “virtual autopsy” includes, but is not limited to, computerized tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, X-rays, and three-dimensional surface scanning technology.
If a medical examiner does not have the equipment necessary to perform the virtual autopsy, arrangements would be made to transfer the body to a county where the virtual autopsy would be performed in accordance with the provisions of bill. If the medical examiner determines that the results of a virtual autopsy indicate that an internal examination is necessary, the examination would be performed in the least intrusive manner as possible.
Currently, the regulations governing objections to autopsies or dissections on religious grounds allow the use of an internal examination and other less intrusive procedures to be performed during an autopsy. However, current regulations do not require the least intrusive procedure to be performed before any other procedure during an autopsy; specify the use of virtual autopsies; or establish procedures for the transfer of a body from a county without the equipment to perform a virtual autopsy to a county that can perform such autopsies.
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.