(a) (1) Notwithstanding any other law, except as otherwise provided in this section, in any case in which the coroner, before the beginning of an autopsy, dissection, or removal of corneal tissue, pituitary glands, or any other organ, tissue, or fluid, has received a certificate of religious belief, executed by the decedent as provided in subdivision (b), that the procedure would be contrary to his or her religious belief, the coroner shall neither perform, nor order the performance of, that procedure on the body of the decedent.
(2) If, before beginning the procedure, the coroner is informed by a relative or a friend of the decedent that the decedent had executed a certificate of religious belief, the coroner shall not order an autopsy to be performed, except as otherwise provided in this section, for 48 hours. If the certificate is produced within 48 hours, the case shall be governed by this section. If the certificate is not produced within that time, the case shall be governed by the other provisions of this article.
(b) Any person, 18 years of age or older, may execute a certificate of religious belief which shall state in clear and unambiguous language that any postmortem anatomical dissection or that specified procedures would violate the religious convictions of the person. The certificate shall be signed and dated by the person in the presence of at least two witnesses. Each witness shall also sign the certificate and shall print on the certificate his or her name and residence address.
(c) Notwithstanding the existence of a certificate, the coroner may at any time cause an autopsy to be performed or any other procedure if he or she has a reasonable suspicion that the death was caused by the criminal act of another or by a contagious disease constituting a public health hazard.
(d) (1) If a certificate is produced, and if subdivision (c) does not apply, the coroner may petition the superior court, without fee, for an order authorizing an autopsy or other procedure or for an order setting aside the certificate as invalid. Notice of the proceeding shall be given to the person who produced the certificate. The proceeding shall have preference over all other cases.
(2) The court shall set aside the certificate if it finds that the certificate was not properly executed or that it does not clearly state the decedent’s religious objection to the proposed procedure.
(3) The court may order an autopsy or other procedure despite a valid certificate if it finds that the cause of death is not evident, and that the interest of the public in determining the cause of death outweighs its interest in permitting the decedent and like persons fully to exercise their religious convictions.
(4) Any procedure performed pursuant to paragraph (3) shall be the least intrusive procedure consistent with the order of the court.
(5) If the petition is denied, and no stay is granted, the body of the deceased shall immediately be released to the person authorized to control its disposition.
(e) In any case in which the circumstances, manner, or cause of death is not determined because of the provisions of this section, the coroner may state on the certificate of death that an autopsy was not conducted because of the provisions of this section.
(f) A coroner shall not be liable for damages in a civil action for any act or omission taken in compliance with the provisions of this section.
(Amended by Stats. 2016, Ch. 787, Sec. 3. (SB 1189) Effective January 1, 2017.)
Last modified: October 25, 2018