Tribal Leaders Push For Autopsy Law Changes

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Instead of mourning their loved ones, last month Native American families were forced to fight for their religious freedoms.

Now, Minnesota lawmakers are stepping in hoping to make a big change when it comes to autopsies and religion.

Tribal leaders and lawmakers are collaborating to create a law allowing for families to object an autopsy for religious reasons.

They say this conversation would have never kicked off if it weren’t for two deaths last month.

Mille Lacs Band members say following the death of an elder, doctors ignored family objections and brought him in for an autopsy.

A few days later, a young Fond du Lac woman was killed in a car accident.

Again, family members fought to get her body back in order to perform religious rituals.

In both cases judges ruled to release the bodies without an autopsy.

“We want to make sure that as people’s lives are ending and their families want to mourn and grieve in their traditional ways they’re allowed to do that,” explained UMD American Indian Studies Professor and attorney, Tadd Johnson.

According to tribal religion after death family performs a four day long ritual, and they say doing an autopsy destroys the body.

If the new law were to pass, it would protect all religious beliefs, but the state still has the power to do an autopsy on a case by case basis.

“If there’s a homicide, if there’s some other compelling state interest for the state to do an autopsy that will not be taken away,” Prof. Johnson said.

Currently, more than half the states have laws giving people the religious right to deny an autopsy.

The bill is still in the early stages, but officials are hoping to push it through this legislative session.

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