Former La Plata coroner: Hiding details of child suicide solves nothing

The Durango Herald: The bill passed recently by Colorado legislators to exempt the autopsy reports of minor children from the Colorado Open Records Act is a product of good intentions, but it’s a bad idea that won’t achieve its stated goals.

According to an article in The Durango Herald, the bill’s supporters – including the Colorado Corners Association – argue that releasing autopsy reports “is an invasion of privacy for survivors and could induce copycat teen suicides.” Democratic Rep. Matt Gray, a bill co-sponsor, said young peoples’ autopsy reports don’t “need to be the subject of internet fodder.”

Rep. Gray is right to condemn the cruelty of social media. But I question whether most of the cretins who use the internet as a weapon to terrorize grieving families read autopsy reports in the first place. And I’m fairly sure a lack of facts won’t deter intrusive speculation and vicious gossip.

The concern about copycat suicides seems born of a desperation to “do something” about youth suicides in general. That’s laudable. But it’s telling that no witness who testified for the bill provided a documented example of a copycat death.

I didn’t see one convincing example in 30 years as a medical examiner and coroner. So, I don’t think fear of mainly hypothetical copycat suicides is sufficient grounds for denying public and media access to autopsy reports. I support open records because factual information serves the public better than ill-informed speculation.

There’s another possible reason why coroners and medical examiners might argue for the confidentiality of youth autopsy reports: Most are unlikely to admit it to anybody other than another medical examiner, but we dread having confrontational arguments with the bereaved over the public nature of autopsy findings.

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