Coroners split on notification policy

Chief Deputy Coroner Tom Marriscolo blasted a new policy endorsed by supervisors Tuesday that requires his office to notify the next of kin if an organ or tissue sample of a deceased family member is retained, calling it a waste of both time and taxpayers’ money.

In coming out against the notification process, Marriscolo seemed to break not only with supervisors but with his boss, Coroner Robert Foucrault, who implemented the more stringent notification policy in February.

In the past, retention of an organ or tissue sample was noted only in the autopsy report, or if a family specifically asked, officials said. Under the new policy, the Coroner’s Office will call families to inform them when something is retained, Foucrault said.

The new policy and supporting resolution of endorsement — approved by supervisors unanimously Tuesday — comes after Daly City resident Selina Picon complained to supervisors in February that her son, Nicolas, was buried without his heart after thecoroner allegedly failed to inform her it was taken.

Nicolas died suddenly at home on Oct. 25, 2006, of a congenital heart defect, at the age of 23. Selina Picon has said she didn’t learn of the retention of her son’s heart until more than two weeks after his burial.

Picon has filed a claim against the county seeking damages and said she will file a lawsuit this week. She declined to give details.

Marriscolo opposes the policy because some family members may not want to know the details of what the coroner does, Marriscolo said.

“To have to turn around in these tragic cases and tell them we’re going to have to take an organ is a very sensitive thing,” Marriscolo said.

Marriscolo called the supervisors’ resolution “meaningless” because state law governs the Coroner’s Office. He accused supervisors of wasting money in pursuing the resolution.

The policy will be closely monitored by the coroner, who will report back to supervisors in six months with an evaluation.

Retention of organs and tissue samples is allowed under state law for purposes of determining the cause of death or for a criminal investigation, according to the California State Coroner’s Association.

“I’m glad [supervisors endorsed the new policy] because now they know that they just can’t keep an organ without next-of-kin notification,” said Picon.

She still plans to pursue a change in state law that would require even more stringent regulations, including consent — rather than notification — from the next of kin when organs or tissue samples are taken, Picon said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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