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Minnesota Legislature

House passes religious exemption for autopsies

Fourteen weeks to the day since the car crash that inspired it, a bill providing for a religious objection to autopsies passed the House Saturday 128-3.

HF1935/SF1694*, sponsored by Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) and Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick), now goes to the governor. The Senate passed the bill 64-0 May 12.

What happened after the Feb. 7 death of Mushkoob Aubid, 65, in a single-vehicle crash in Carlton County, propelled a fast-moving effort to create a path for exemptions from autopsies. The medical examiner was intent on performing an autopsy, even after Aubid’s family got a court order to stop it. It took the urging of two county attorneys to prevent the procedure, which is a desecration according to the Midewiwin religious beliefs of Aubid, who was a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Under the bill, coroners and medical examiners who intend to perform an autopsy would first have to inform the deceased person’s family, who could then object.

Coroners and medical examiners could still proceed — if they determine, in deaths meeting certain conditions, there is a compelling state interest.

In the case of a death not meeting those conditions, coroners and medical examiners would be able to ask a judge for authority to perform an autopsy. Family members would be party to the proceeding and could submit evidence, which would be sealed. 

Coroners and medical examiners who perform autopsies over families’ religious objections would have to use “the least intrusive procedure consistent with the state’s compelling interest” in the results.

Green emphasized his bill doesn’t change existing law concerning mandatory autopsies. “It deals only with discretionary autopsies.”

Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) raised several concerns, including a definition of “compelling state interest” that left out some of the types of deaths listed in current law as reasons for an autopsy. She also said the bill would give priority to the religious objections of one parent with joint custody of a child who dies over the other parent who may want an autopsy.

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