Houston: New Rules To Cut Medical Examiner Work

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The Harris County medical examiner’s office in Houston, which handled nearly 4,000 autopsies for 15 counties last year, may be forced to cut services sharply under a new state law that was prompted by Houston’s crime laboratory problems, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The law requires almost every entity that performs forensic analyses to earn accreditation from a national organization. Some in forensic fields that have nothing to do with DNA are asking why they should be subjected to new standards.

National standards would limit pathologists to performing no more than 350, or in some cases 250, autopsies each year after the statute takes effect Sept. 1, 2005. They also require that autopsies be performed in an accredited laboratory — not a hospital or funeral home, as is the practice in many rural counties.

With 10 full-time pathologists, the Harris County medical examiner would need about five more people to achieve the approved workload. There are only 34 nationally certified pathologists working in the state, officials note.

“The labor shortage is extreme and will mean that many [medical examiners] offices in Texas will simply not be able to hire the necessary number of forensic pathologists,” Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford wrote the state Department of Public Safety, which is administering the law. “Who, then, will present the forensic pathology evidence in criminal trials? We are concerned that those who have committed crimes and are responsible for another’s death will not be held criminally responsible as a direct result of these regulations.”

Link: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/printstory.hts/metropolitan/2136599

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