This week’s Q&A: Sen. Adam Kline on religious objection to autopsy

By | January 16, 2012 | Comments

Tomorrow, a bill that would provide for religious objection to an autopsy is scheduled for a hearing. I’ll be covering this hearing for TVW tomorrow. Today, I spoke with the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Adam Kline about this bill and a bill related to fraud punishment that he is behind.

Q: What prompted you to take up the issue of religious objection to autopsy? 

Kline: Well, the issue was brought to us actually. A tourist a few months ago, in the fall was climbing Mount Rainier. The gentleman … died on Mount Ranier. Could have been any number of causes, people die on Mount Rainier with amazing frequency. … An orthodox rabbi suggested to the King County [medical examiner] that respect should be given to the fact that the orthodox follow the Jewish tradition of burying the dead with dignity and quickly … that’s tradition, and it does have a basis in the Torah. I understand that there are various religious traditions have this, it’s not just Jews; there are others… I believe Muslims believe the same way. I respect that, but at the same time we have to balance that with the authority, not just of the medical examiner, but of the prosecutor. … Whenever there is any death at all, law enforcement understands that most deaths are not foul-play, but we have to look. There has to be some examination … you have to look. In the vast majority of cases, there is no foul-play, but you can’t bury the body until you make that inquiry. 

Q: Would this bill allow any family with a religious objection to forgo autopsy in any circumstance? Or would some suspicious deaths merit an autopsy no matter what? 

Kline: Those are two extremes. For the first one, the answer is obviously no. You don’t just dictate because of your own religious beliefs or even the beliefs of the diseased … it simply asks the prosecutor to balance religious considerations with law enforcement considerations. And by the way, the court is given that jurisdiction if the two parties disagree. There has to be a compelling necessity [to require an autopsy]. That phrase means there has to be some law enforcement interest that has not been resolved

Q: How open do you think lawmakers will be to this bill?

Kline: I don’t know. I’ve got to confess, this is not a bill on which I’ve counted noses.  The reason is, I think there will be a willingness to accept this. It won’t affect this balance of two interests, both of which are important to all legislators … [who] understand the need to accept and balance needs from religious organizations and religious bodies with those of law enforcement.

Q: Any other bills you’re sponsoring to keep an eye on?

Kline: 5310. Fraud, waste, and abuse. Everyone’s against it. What this bill does is it allows the Attorney General to be better equipped in recouping losses the state has incurred by fraud, by cheaters. People who have cheated the state. The AG has been ill-equipped to chase them and collect their money. This bill increases the AG’s ability to do that. Let me give you an example … many states and the federal government have laws that if you report fraud that has already been perpetrated against the public, if you give all the facts that allow the US attorney or in some states the Attorney General the information from which to sue the fraudulent party … a bounty hunter reports that information, the Attorney General sues, and the bounty hunter is given a very small portion of the proceeds. It encourages people to come forward. Anyone can be a bounty hunter …  and that includes the perpetrator of the fraud … even the guy who was a participant in the fraud, he’d get a reduced amount, but he’d at least get an amount that would make it worthwhile to come forward.