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Washington non-consensual organ-harvesting case to be resolved by state court

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] has asked the Washington Supreme Court [official website] to determine whether the sister of a man whose bodily tissues were harvested for medical research without consent may sue for damages. In an order [PDF] issued Tuesday, a Ninth Circuit panel found that plaintiff Robinette Amaker had raised dispositive issues of unsettled state law, certifying to the Washington court the questions of whether Amaker, as the decedent's sister, has standing to sue for tortious interference with a corpse and whether the state's now-repealed version of the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act [materials] created a private right of action. The court wrote:

This case presents an opportunity for the state supreme court to identify which claims may be brought in cases arising out of non-consensual organ donation. Likewise, the court may wish to consider the interplay between the Anatomical Gift Act and claims for tortious interference with a corpse...Amaker argues there is tension between the two [district court] holdings: she was legally permitted to donate [her brother's] organs, but she did not have the legal right to dispose of the body. The Washington court may wish to remedy this tension, or it may conclude that the policy rationales behind the common law claim and the [Uniform Act] compel this outcome.
When the man died, the King County Medical Examiner's Office [official website] could not reach his next of kin, and so sent tissue from his brain, liver and spleen to the Stanley Medical Research Institute (SMRI) [organization website]. The medical examiner's office has faced several lawsuits [KIRO-TV report] over its defunct tissue-harvesting program, which raised nearly $1.5 million over 10 years. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has more.

In 2005, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels refused [press release; JURIST report] to stay the execution of Gregory Scott Johnson, a convicted murderer [denial of post conviction relief] who hoped to give both a kidney and his liver to his sister, who suffered from hepatitis. The governor said he would have been amenable to a short delay if Johnson's donation offered "a clear, demonstrated medical advantage to his sister."

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