County coroners are not required to include autopsy reports in the records they make public each year — only the cause and manner of the deaths they investigate, a Pennsylvania state appeals court ruled yesterday. Forcing the release of a homicide victim’s autopsy to The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown, Pa., could violate individual privacy rights, particularly regarding medical history, the Commonwealth Court ruled in a 5-0 decision. The newspaper is seeking the autopsy report for Dana Gates, who died of head injuries on Nov. 30, 2001, in an unsolved homicide.
“Requiring the coroner to release the autopsy report upon which she relied, and any sensitive medical information contained therein that may be privileged or cause embarrassment to the decedent’s survivors, fulfills no purpose other than to satisfy a prurient interest,” wrote Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt. Tribune-Democrat Editor Chip Minemyer told the Associated Press, “There continues to be a lack of clarity concerning whether autopsy records are part of the official papers and records of the coroner. There also continues to be larger and more critical concerns that we have a violent and unsolved crime in our community.”