SEATTLE — A husband fought to honor his pregnant wife's dying request not to have an autopsy after she died. Now, he says, the legal battle he went through never should have happened.
The issue stems from a 34-year-old rule that applies only to people in King County dying from a disease caused by exposure to asbestos. It could require an autopsy if they sue unless they have ethical or religious objections.
Her husband was told that their objection didn't meet the standard.
So the court said she had to have an autopsy, like the ones performed here at the King County Medical Examiner, as part of their lawsuit.
It was devastating.
Jason McCrary scrolled through the photographs that seem to condense even more a life foreshortened by disease.
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Rachel McCrary was just 37 and pregnant when she got a devastating diagnosis the asbestos her father brought home from his telephone company job had infected her lungs with a deadly disease.
For 13 long months she fought to survive.
"Undergoing biopsies to do blood draws, to chemotherapy, experimental therapy," said McCrary. "She went through a lot especially being pregnant with mesothelioma on top of that."
She delivered their daughter, Isla, two months premature. But six months later, Rachel was gone.
"She died November, 11th, 2016," McCrary said.
So her husband sued Century Link. The telecommunications giant wanted an autopsy to confirm the diagnosis. But Rachel had already said no.
"She did not want an autopsy," he said. "She was done."
But a judge rejected that.
"It was in the opinion of the judge that my reason, Rachel's reason, wasn't ethical enough," McCrary said. "Or just not ethical in the eyes of the judge interpreting the law."
"It's an invasion of their personal dignity, their personal autonomy," said Matt Bergman, McCrary's Seattle attorney.
Moreover, Bergman believes the judge's ruling was based on old science.
"There was a time when in order to make a diagnosis you had to have an autopsy," said Bergman. "But medical science has advanced to such a point that in most cases simply based on a biopsy you can confirm the diagnosis."
He is petitioning King County Superior Court to overturn the ruling.
"To have a kind of a carte blanche rule where simply as a cost of filing a lawsuit you succumb or you're forced to agree to have your remains dismembered upon your death, I don't believe is necessary," said Bergman. "And I don't believe is legal."
McCrary says he is fighting for those who will have to face this terrible choice in the future.
"It's about fairness," McCrary said. "It's not about defendant versus a plaintiff. (It's) about being fair."
He says he couldn't agree to an autopsy. He had his wife cremated instead. But he says that likely hurt his lawsuit. Still, he and Century Link reached a confidential settlement early this year.
Cox Media Group