Medical examiners have to decide the cause and manner of death when somebody dies under their jurisdiction.
That’s not all they have to decide. Sometimes, they have to decide whether to allow babies to be buried.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortionist, was tried and convicted of the murder of a baby born alive. News sources report that investigators found 47 dead babies and baby body parts in bags, boxes, jars and various other containers in Gosnell’s “squalid” clinic. Those remains were taken into medical examiner custody.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest and the national director of Priests for Life, wants the medical examiner to release the babies’ bodies for “a decent burial.” He fears the bodies will be discarded as medical waste.
“We will not release the bodies to any third party,” said Dr. Sam Gulino, the Philadelphia medical examiner, citing “legal consultations.”
On July 19, pro-life activists, including the Rev. Pavone, were prevented from delivering to the medical examiner a letter demanding the release of the babies’ bodies.
On Aug. 26, a coalition of about two dozen activists renewed the request by gathering in prayer outside the medical examiner’s office.
Since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, millions of abortions have been performed in America. According to the Rev. Pavone, “Many of these bodies have been found in Dumpsters outside abortion mills.”
Across the country, 30 burial places have been established for these bodies. the Rev. Pavone wants to find a burial plot in Philadelphia for the Gosnell babies. “Burial highlights the humanity of these children and underscores the inhumanity of what was done to them,” he says. “We’ve also found that this also brings healing.”
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Sounds like the right thing to do. Why would the medical examiner refuse?
Because lawyers advised him to.
Nobody knows whose children these were. It would take a lot of time and a lot of money for DNA tests to try to sort out their identities and ask permission of their parents. Likely, Philadelphia is unwilling to pony up.
Why bother? Shouldn’t the choice to abort a baby automatically terminate parental rights?
The law probably wouldn’t see it that way.
Somebody could come forward and sue, saying, “I’m a (Muslim/Buddhist/atheist). I’ve suffered emotional injury because my baby was buried in a Christian ceremony by a Catholic priest. I demand compensation.”
Lawyers representing government entities are cautious folks. “Don’t do it,” they must have told Dr. Gulino.
The medical examiner is caught in the middle. If he ignores legal advice and somebody sues, he’ll be out a lot of money – win or lose – defending the lawsuit. Philadelphia is unlikely to defend Dr. Gulino. Good chance they’ll sue him, too. He’ll almost surely be fired. Other offices will be reluctant to hire somebody who got his former employer sued by ignoring legal advice. The potential consequences are huge.
If Dr. Gulino continues to refuse to release the bodies, he’ll be the object of pickets and protests and portrayed as an uncaring jerk.
email@example.com. Dr. Carol J. Huser, a forensic pathologist, served as La Plata County coroner from 2003-12. She now lives in Florida and Maryland.