Wednesday, July 31, 2013
In 2004, Jerry Carswell unexpectedly died after being admitted to Christus St. Catherine Hospital in Katy, Texas for kidney stones. Due to an incomplete autopsy, Carswell’s death remains unknown and his widow, Linda, still waits to receive his heart back, which currently sits in a pathologist’s lab.
Autopsies have become increasingly rare with an autopsy being conducted in only five percent of hospital deaths. However, many grief-stricken families desperately want answers that an autopsy may provide, and all too often these families don’t know their rights when dealing with coroners, medical examiners, and health-care providers.
Because Linda Carswell felt she had not been informed of her rights immediately following her husband’s death, she teamed up with Texas Representative Bill Callegari to introduce the Jerry Carswell Memorial Act. Texas hospitals are now required to use a standardized autopsy consent form spelling out the rights of families following the death of a loved one in a medical facility. This form details “the circumstances under which a medical examiner is required to conduct an investigation; that, in cases not taken by a medical examiner, survivors have a right to have an independent pathologist conduct a clinical autopsy; that the family has a right to place special limitations on the examination; and that the person giving consent for the autopsy controls the release of the remains.”
See Marshall Allen, Why Can’t Linda Carswell Get Her Husband’s Heart Back?, ProPublica, Dec. 15, 2011.