A court in Seattle is forcing a man dying of mesothelioma to have an autopsy after his death before his family can sue for asbestos exposure. Seventy-one-year-old James Ross refuses the autopsy required by the King County court on moral grounds. He realizes that this will increase the difficulty in proving that his cancer was caused by asbestos exposure from the defendants, Kaiser Gypsum and T.H. Agriculture and Nutrition. Both of the defendants hold that the suit should be dropped if Ross refuses the autopsy. Under Washington State law, religious grounds permit people to forego an autopsy, but Ross simply claims to object to the marring of his body after death. Due to that, the defendants believe that the lawsuit should be thrown out. Additionally, since Ross’ life has not yet been taken by mesothelioma, the defendants have refused to have the suit move to a trial.
As a result, James Ross and the defendants are now on a death watch until his case can move forward. During his career as a railroad brakeman and conductor with the Burlington Northern Railroad, James Ross was regularly exposed to asbestos. He also came in contact with the deadly substance while he was remodeling a home in the 1960s. Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the lungs that usually kills within months of diagnosis. The plaintiff argued on October 31, 2008, that a protective order to prohibit an unauthorized autopsy should be filed. According to court documents, the court cannot force a person to have an autopsy even if his refusal is not on religious grounds. The decision to protect James Ross from an unauthorized autopsy was pending at the time of this writing.