In Texas, the Christus St. Catherine Hospital in Katy, Texas, took the heart of a dead man without the widow's consent. The widow, after a protracted court battle, finally got the heart back so she could bury it with her husband. However, it turns out that the heart now has no human DNA, a shocking fact that Carswell found out after getting it tested first.
The lack of DNA could be due to the way it was preserved, or the “real possibility that the heart submitted was not human,” according to the forensic biologist who did the analysis.
Carswell said that she can’t, in good conscience, bury the tissue. She’s not even sure what it is.
“It could desecrate the grave,” Carswell said.
There are two further complications in this case. The first is that nobody seems to know what caused Jerry's death in the first place.
He died shortly after receiving a dose of narcotics on the day he was supposed to be discharged from Christus St. Catherine Hospital in Katy, Texas.The second is that Linda never found out about the heart not being buried with Jerry until two years afterwards:
Within hours, Linda requested a complete and independent autopsy to see if the narcotics played a role. Hospital employees steered her to a pathologist at St. Joseph Medical Center, then owned by the same company. The autopsy did not determine why Jerry died and did not include drug tests.
It wasn’t until about two years after her husband died that Carswell even realized he had been buried without his heart. She found out from a legal deposition, in which the pathologist said he cut out the heart, or at least a portion of it, and kept at St. Joseph Medical Center.ProPublica, along with Frontline and NPR did an investigation of our autopsy system. What they found is troubling:
The reality in America's morgues is quite different. ProPublica, in collaboration with PBS "Frontline" and NPR, took an in-depth look at the nation's 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and found a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes. We discovered cases in which blunders by doctors have put innocent people in prison cells, allowed the guilty to go free and left some cases so muddled that prosecutors could do nothing.And yet in the face of hospitals losing organs and a dysfunctional autopsy system, President Obama is pushing for hospital deregulation in the name of austerity.
We surveyed almost 70 of the largest coroner and medical examiner systems in the country and learned that more than one in five physicians working in the country's busiest morgues are not board certified in forensic pathology, the branch of medicine focused on the mechanics of death. Experts say such certification ensures that doctors who do autopsies have at least basic skills.
And the State of Texas is worse. Families found out that there are no state regulations whatsoever regarding private autopsies. This means that certain private autopsy firms are charging grieving families thousands of dollars and delivering reports that are completely erroneous.