/Over law enforcement’s objections, autopsy privatization bill advances

Over law enforcement’s objections, autopsy privatization bill advances

However, Mississippi’s chief physician examiner expressed concern that the bill could be ineffective at best and derail potential criminal cases at worst. A Senate judiciary committee approved Tuesday Senate Bill 2400. This authorizes a pilot program for three years. Itawamba, Lee and Harrison counties have the option of sending their bodies to private forensic pathologists instead of to the Pearl state medical examiner’s office. This office has a limited staff and can take over a year to complete an autopsy report. “I am not trying to undermine (the medical examiners). Sen. Chad McMahan (R-Guntown), who sponsored the legislation, said that he was looking to allow coroners to speed up certain cases. The legislation is currently opposed by the Department of Public Safety. This agency oversees the state criminal lab and state medical examiner’s offices. It does not require that the pathologist be a board-certified pathologist. Public-safety spokesperson Therese Apel said that this could lead to problems in criminal trials. Apel stated that the bill “shortens the requirements of pathologists who perform autopsies” and puts doctors in an awkward position at trial where they admit that they are not board-certified in forensic pathology. This could have legal implications. “This weaker standard also presents insurmountable problems to prosecutors who have criminal components to prove (guilty). Beyond a reasonable doubt elements, including elements that onlyforensic pathologists can speak to: cause of death and manner of death,” Apel said. The backlog of autopsy reports at the state Medical Examiner’s office has grown for nearly three years. It performs 1,400 autopsies per year on any suspected death or death. McMahan initially approached McMahan to discuss the legislation. Coroners have no control over this backlog and can sometimes spend months dealing in grieving families. McMahan stated that Mississippians deserve great service and that the coroners needed some assistance. There are only two medical examiners currently working in Mississippi, which is three less than what the National Association of Medical Examiners recommends for the state’s caseload. This is the reason for the backlog. According to Mark LeVaughn (chief medical examiner), the Legislature allocated $1 million last year to the medical examiner’s office in order to hire more forensic pathologists. However, they are still having difficulty with recruiting. LeVaughn stated that while the salary is now “about average”, candidates are scared away by the sheer volume of cases. Each medical examiner performed 700 autopsies last year, which is more than three times the recommended amount. “And not many board certified forensic pathologists graduate every year. It’s around 30. They can choose where they go.” This bill requires that a pathologist be board-certified as forensic pathologist, which is the industry standard. Only those who work in the state crime laboratory are considered forensic pathologists. LeVaughn stated that Mississippi has no forensic pathologists. For decades, Mississippi has had problems with its medical examiner system. The state had been relying on Steven Hayne to do 80 percent of its autopsies for nearly 20 years. Hayne, who wasn’t a board-certified pathologist, was fired by the state in 2008. His testimony has been discredit in many cases over the years. Mississippi tried to privatize its medical examiner’s offices, and contracted with Nashville-based Forensic. In 2010, the state hired LeVaughn to be its chief medical inspector after a string of backlogs and one scandal involving one of the company’s forensic pathologists taking drugs from Mississippi bodies he had examined. McMahan stated that the state should still refer potential criminal cases, even though the bill does not specify which cases should be referred to the state’s medical examiner. Senator Juan Barnett (D-Heidelberg), who voted for the bill to be sent to the Senate floor, expressed concern that coroners might be forced to use private pathologists even though the medical examiner’s office is the best choice. They are just so overwhelmed with calls. Barnett stated that they may be trying to take the heat off them by saying, “Let’s just send (the) cases over here.” Barnett also asked if the coroner, who determines the time and place of death but not the cause, can decide whether a case should be considered criminal or not. This concern is shared by LeVaughn. LeVaughn stated that there are many times when you look at a case and think, “Oh my goodness! It’s more than it seems.” “So when you have someone who doesn’t know how this is recognized, you’re in trouble.” “We’re trying to escape Mississippi’s past (of using) uncertified outside pathology practices. It’s not a bad idea. But the complications aren’t really thought out.”