Who Owns Your Dead Son’s Brain?

Do parents have a constitutionally protected property interest in the dead body of their child, including all organs?  Not necessarily is the answer given by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Albrecht v. Treon, at least under Ohio law as interpreted by the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Albrechts brought a Section 1983 suit against the county coroner, among others, alleging that they were deprived of a protected property interest without due process of law when the coroner removed and retained their dead son’s brain without notice.  According to the state, the brain was needed for additional study to aid in a criminal investigation. The question was certified to the Ohio Supreme Court, which held that under Ohio law the parents have no constitutionally protected interest in their child’s human remains that are retained for criminal investigation purposes, prompting a judgment for the state in district court.  Today, the Sixth Circuit affirmed, distinguishing Circuit precedent that recognized constitutionally protected property interests in a family member’s body parts retained for donation purposes.