Assemblymember Irwin introduces bill to increase confidentiality for autopsy reports and death investigations

Thursday, February 20, 2020

SACRAMENTO – Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D – Thousand Oaks) has introduced Assembly Bill 2372, which would increase confidentiality for reports and records of coroners and medical examiners for victims and crime victim families.

“The public should not have access to the intimate and often very personal details found within in an autopsy and in a medical examiner’s records,” said Assemblymember Irwin.  “This information can be very traumatizing for the surviving family members of a crime victim. The families of the Borderline shooting victims should not have to endure repeated trauma caused by conspiracy theorists and others who could have access to these highly personal reports.”

Assembly Bill 2372 is sponsored by the County of Ventura, and will provide confidentiality for autopsy reports and death investigations. The bill ensures that these sensitive records are available only to next of kin and surviving family members, courts, law enforcement, and other public and private entities with a demonstrated operational need. General information will remain available upon request, including the name, age, gender, and race of a decedent. Additionally, a coroner will remain able to share the date and place of death and the cause and manner of death.

“I wholeheartedly support this important privacy measure that seeks to protect the confidentiality of a decedents autopsy records,” stated Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten. “This legislation will also help a murder victim’s surviving family members avoid the additional trauma associated with exposing the intimate medical details of their loved ones death.”

This bill will provide consistency between a person’s privacy rights under state and federal law, which strongly protects the privacy of living individuals, and the lack of privacy protections for those who have died. The idea for this legislation was brought forward to Assemblymember Irwin by Dr. Christopher Young, Ventura County Chief Medical Examiner.

“Death investigation and autopsy records are exempt from public disclosure in nearly half of the states throughout the U.S.” stated Dr. Young, “A death investigation – when an autopsy is indicated – includes private information including an individual’s medical and social history, financial and legal history, in addition to a detailed description of the body. Under current California law, these reports are considered public and can be requested by anyone in most instances. Most residents of California are unaware of the volume and detail of private information contained in these reports.”

The need for these additional protections were underscored for Ventura County after the Borderline shooting in 2018. Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks shared, “I will never forget sitting alongside parents during the worst moments of their lives, following the horrific Borderline mass shooting. This bill protects the public's right to know about the cause and manner of someone's death, while also being sensitive to a deceased loved one's private medical history. I thank Assembly Member Jacqui Irwin wholeheartedly for authoring this important legislation.”

AB 2723 will be referred to the Assembly Rules Committee for assignment to the relevant policy committees and will be heard later this spring.

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