|In the near future, I am planning to reintroduce former House Bill 207 from last session. This piece of legislation will add a new Chapter to Title 20 (Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries) to provide for the confidentiality of autopsy audiovisual material.
This legislation provides that all audiovisual materials (photographs, video recordings and audio recordings) generated in connection with performance of an autopsy shall be confidential. No person can prepare any autopsy audiovisual materials unless he has the written consent of the physician performing the autopsy or the coroner or medical examiner authorized to perform or order the autopsy. All audiovisual material associated with the autopsy shall be confidential and may not be released by the physician, coroner or medical examiner who performed the autopsy or any person assisting them in either the autopsy or the preparation of audiovisual material. The autopsy audiovisual materials shall not be deemed official records and papers of the coroner and shall not be subject to the filing requirement set forth in the County Code. 16 P.S. §1251.
The bill outlines exceptions to the general rule, allowing audiovisual material to be released:
This legislation provides that the unauthorized preparation of autopsy audiovisual material is a misdemeanor of the second degree (up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $5,000) and the unauthorized release of such material is a misdemeanor of the first degree (up to 5 years and/or up to $10,000).
- Upon consent of the decedent or a personal representative, except that during an investigation by law enforcement or a coroner, a hearing on the release must be held and release can only be accomplished through issuance of a court order.
- To Federal, State or local law enforcement officers in the performance of their official duties.
- To a coroner or medical examiner for use in the performance of official duties or training, including conferral with medical and scientific experts for teaching and training. (This exception was amended in committee to include the language regarding conferral with medical and scientific experts.)
- When an autopsy is conducted pursuant to consent of the decedent or a personal representative, the physician who performs the autopsy may use the materials for teaching, training or publication in a medical or scientific journal or textbook, provided they redact the identity of the decedent, rendering them anonymous. (This exception was added by amendment in committee and was requested by numerous medical groups who were concerned that the language of the bill as drafted could have a chilling effect on medical research and training).
- Any person that has obtained a court order for release after notice and a hearing showing that: release of the material is necessary to protect public health and safety or is necessary for pending litigation, and the need for the materials outweighs the privacy interest of the decedent and his family.