Should Tennesseans be able to see autopsy reports?

Mar 5, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  A bill before the Tennessee Legislature seeks to hide autopsy reports from the public.


During committee testimony, Knox County Medical Examiner Dr. Darinka Mileusnic recalled the autopsy of an infant who died from Herpes inherited from the birth mother. Dr. Mileusnic believes the mother’s right to privacy was violated by making the autopsy public.

“She is the one out there in the world with Herpes 1 and Herpes 2 was devastating to her. And I didn’t really think that information should be available to everybody; her neighbors or family members that she didn’t actually want to know.”

But Debra Fisher with the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government notes that there are already many restrictions on autopsy releases. And she says reporters frequently use the reports to challenge official claims.

“The report really didn’t’ match what the official story was of what happened in a suspicious death, so they are important in terms of government accountability.”

Fisher cites a case where a reporter used an autopsy to reveal that a Memphis SWAT Team had shot a child during a botched raid, then tried to cover the incident up.

She cites a second example where police reported a suspect had been shot and killed in a scuffle with a police offer, but the autopsy revealed the suspect had actually been shot while moving away from the policeman.

Fisher says the bill is too broad and a narrower solution should be found to both protect privacy and maintain public access.

The bill appears to be stalled for the moment in both the House and Senate.