Victim of Mesothelioma Not Required to Have an Autopsy

In a hotly contested debate over whether or not a man dying of mesothelioma will have to have an autopsy, a judge has issued a ruling to protect the man after his death. Twenty-four years after the 1984 ruling that required autopsies in asbestos lawsuit cases resulting in death, 71-year-old James Ross got a judge to give him permission to forego an autopsy. Ross had fought the required autopsy on personal moral grounds. He did not wish to subject family members to the trauma of planning a funeral amidst an autopsy and asbestos lawsuit. “I have said no, for philosophical reasons,” Ross said. “They’re pestering widows. They don’t need that.” King County Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas did not overturn the autopsy requirement for others’ asbestos lawsuits, but instead it offered court protection for the body of James Ross. The defense still has the ability to request an autopsy of the man, but with advances in medical diagnostics, it is possible to determine mesothelioma causes without an autopsy in some cases. Ross’ exception to the autopsy is not the first to reach the King County court system.

Many others have had reprieves from the required autopsy based upon their religious beliefs. Ross is the first to oppose the measure on philosophical grounds. For 51 years, Ross worked on the Great Northern Railway (today known as BNSF) as both a conductor and a brakeman. Ross was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2006 and only given eight months to live. He believes that exposure to the chemicals in the brakes and in building materials he used in his home construction led to his cancer. Ross has a pending asbestos lawsuit against the railroad company and several of the building materials companies scheduled to reach the courts in March 2009. Should he die during the litigation, the judge’s protective order will prevent his body from being taken for an autopsy.