Could a final act of generosity destroy a wrongful death claim?

When someone dies unexpectedly, there’s a natural human inclination to want that person’s life — and death — to have meaning. People who have never considered the prospect of donating their body parts, including skin, bones, eyes and internal organs after death are often confronted in their loved one’s final moments and asked to make decisions about those very issues.

Well, there’s a possibility that your act of generosity could also let the person who caused your loved one’s death escape accountability.

Many human tissue “procurement companies” act in conjunction with their local coroner’s office — but they usually act well before an autopsy can be done. If the deceased is the victim of a wrongful death via malpractice or some other means, the victim’s survivors may be left at a disadvantage. Missing body parts can make determining an exact cause of death impossible. Even when an autopsy is done before any body parts are harvested, there may be a dispute about the findings. The fact that it isn’t possible to do a complete second autopsy can create significant legal complications.

You may not realize this, but federal law requires hospitals to notify procurement companies every time a patient dies. In addition, the procurement companies often have connections to government agencies — which means they quickly know about deaths that take place in other accidents, like when someone is in a car wreck or falls from a building. Some people mistakenly grant permission to the procurement companies to do whatever they want, thinking that they’re actually talking to a coroner’s office.

If your loved one dies prematurely and there’s any possibility that someone else’s negligence or willful action is at fault, reconsider the wisdom of allowing any body parts to be harvested before you speak to a wrongful death attorney.