Last month, the state Senate’s Health Committee approved a bill to ensure “accurate and unbiased” autopsies by requiring licensed physicians to conduct them.

The bill, jointly authored by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Sacramento’s 6th district Senator Dr. Richard Pan, follows last year’s discovery of non-physician conducted autopsies at Ventura County’s Medical Examiner’s Office while the then-Medical Examiner Dr. Jon Smith was on vacation.

“This has brought understandable distress and anger to families, eroded the public’s trust, and opened a Pandora’s box of important questions about who and how we conduct postmortem exams,” said Jackson in a prepared statement. Autopsies, which not only form a critical component of gaining valuable medical knowledge, are crucial in the process of losing a loved one, argued Jackson.

Currently, a county coroner need not be a licensed physician or pathologist. The Sheriff serves as coroner in 50 of California’s 58 counties — Santa Barbara included. However, the autopsy bill would require a licensed physician or surgeon conduct each autopsy. The bill proposes medical examiners be granted access to crime scene photos, videos, or other information during the death investigation.

Jackson recently requested the California Medical Board investigate Smith and his staff, according to a press release. The Union of American Physicians and Dentists sponsors the legislation, which appears next before the Senate Appropriations Committee.


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