Autopsy photos for public consumption

I read an AP article in Editor & Publisher from November 30th on restricting use of autopsy photos in Ohio. The story talks about how autopsy photos of a 16-year-old girl who died in a car accident ended up in a slide show about drunk driving. The girl’s mother, who hadn’t been asked for permission to use her daughters photos, was outraged (and rightly so if you ask me).

The article goes on to say which states are passing legislation to ban autopsy photos from the public and who aren’t. It was this paragraph, however, that threw me for a loop:

Open-records advocates say that keeping the records available to the public is crucial to making sure that coroners, often elected officials supported with tax dollars, are doing their jobs right.

How is keeping these photos and records available to the public helping to make sure coroners are doing their job? I didn’t understand this argument at all. Medical records are confidential when one is alive – why should the public get the opportunity to paw through your medical information once you’re dead? I don’t think it’s right.

But state Rep. Scott Oelslager, a Republican and open-records advocate, said he sees no justification for the bill.

"We should be erring on the part of openness," he said. "People pay for the coroners and these notes, and we should make public records as open to the public as possible."

I’d like to pose this situation to Mr. Oelslager: how would he feel if his daughter was brutally raped and sexually assaulted with a hatchet? Would Mr. Oleslager want that sort of information and autopsy photos free to the public?

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