X-Message-Number: 7695
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 1997 16:16:49 -0700
From: David Brandt-Erichsen <>
Subject: Florida coroner troubles

          From February 16 Tampa Tribune


          GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - If your body comes under the
          authority of a Florida medical examiner after you die,
          your troubles may be just beginning.

          Your skull, parts of your brain - or any other body part
          or organ - can be legally seized by the medical examiner
          without your family ever knowing.

          And in Alachua County or one of the five other counties
          that fall under the jurisdiction of Eighth District
          Medical Examiner William Hamilton, your parts could well
          end up as fodder for research at the University of

          "We don't usually run around telling everyone, 'We kept
          this part of the liver, this part of the heart,'"
          Hamilton said.

          But there should be a limit on what a medical examiner
          can take from a body, said Gainesville attorney Tom
          Kurrus, who unsuccessfully sued Hamilton on behalf of
          the family of Rita Melton, a 32-year-old woman whose
          head was cut off under Hamilton's supervision and given
          to prominent UF forensic anthropologist William Maples,
          who used it for research.

          "Sometimes I think Dr. Hamilton views the bodies of
          dead loved ones as a gift to the world of science and
          academics," Kurrus said.

          Circuit Judge Nath Doughtie last year decided in
          Hamilton's favor in the case by finding that cutting off
          Rita Melton's head and turning it over to Maples was
          "well within Dr. Hamilton's rights," a ruling that has
          focused attention on the laws regulating the state's
          public medical examiners generally and Hamilton's
          practices in particular.

          After Melton's head was removed in Hamilton's office, it
          went to Maples' UF laboratory. The skull then became
          part of a Maples research project, used by one of his
          graduate students as part of her master's thesis. It
          also was used by Maples to help perfect an experimental
          human identification technique that generates outside
          private income for Maples.

          Hamilton never asked permission from Melton's mother or
          from any other family member to take Melton's head. He
          refused the family's request to view Melton's body,
          which was cremated the same day he released it.

          He failed to inform sheriff's deputies or the state
          attorney of what he'd done, though Melton was an
          apparent murder victim whose death was the source of a
          continuing investigation.

          He failed to note on the public record autopsy report
          that the head had been cut off, though he noted other
          tissue samples he had removed.

          Hamilton's actions apparently were legal under Florida
          law, which lay out the scope of a medical examiner's
          duties and responsibilities. They also were permissible
          under the rules of the Medical Examiners Commission.

          "I wouldn't disagree with it," said Joe Davis, a
          long-time Dade County medical examiner who helped draft
          the state's medical examiner statute and served as
          chairman of the Medical Examiners Commission when many
          of the commission's rules were established.

          The statute and the rules are vigorously defended by the
          state's medical examiners themselves - a group of 23
          pathologists who jealously guard their independence and

          "One of the strongest parts of the medical examiner
          system in this state, I believe, is our total
          independence," said Joan Wood, the Pinellas County
          medical examiner who currently serves as chairman of the
          Medical Examiners Commission.

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