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Senator drops bill to close autopsy records

By Deborah Fisher • Updated Mar 9, 2018 at 9:00 AM

State Sen. Joey Hensley, a physician and Lewis County medical examiner, decided not to present a bill that would have closed autopsy reports, sending it to the general subcommittee of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

Hensley, in explaining his action Wednesday, said the bill was brought to him by the House sponsor, Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, with concern about certain medical information that might become part of the public record.

Hensley recognized autopsy reports, which are ordered by county medical examiners in specific situations such as suspicious deaths, are currently open as a public record.

“Sometimes they have medical information in the autopsy reports, and this bill was attempting to make that part of the reports not open to the public,” Hensley said. “But looking at the law, it already protects that health status of the person before they die, so with that, I do generally sub Senate Bill 2572.”

The bill passed a House health subcommittee last week, with testimony from the Knox County medical examiner who wanted all findings of government-ordered and funded autopsy reports and toxicological laboratory results confidential. The examiner said family members sometimes want that information private. Her proposal would have covered a broad range of records.

She shared an experience with a 5-day-old baby who had died from herpes, passed along by the mother. The mother was anguished that information about her own health status of herpes might become known.

Smith said he would amend the bill to only protect medical records about the patient that was not a part of the cause of death, but that would have some bearing on living relatives.

However, the law already provides for such records to be confidential.

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