Saturday, June 23, 2012

Coroner's autopsies: Ontario apologizes for keeping body parts after autopsies without telling families. The Toronto Star. (HL: Signs of a new era);

CBC NATIONAL DOCUMENTARY "TRUTH, LIES AND CONFESSIONS": SUNDAY JUNE 24: "Canadians cheered when police obtained confessions from Russell Williams and Terri-Lynne McClintic for their horrific crimes. But others who've been subjected to police interrogations, including Brenda Waudby, say the aggressive techniques used by Canadian police are eliciting confessions from innocent people, too. Joe Schlesinger presents his special report, Truth, Lies and Confessions, Sunday, June 24 on CBC News The National." Airs at 10 p.m. on CBC Television, and at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network. Available online at after the broadcast."


PUBLISHER'S VIEW: Members of the public had good reason to be disturbed after learning that the Chief Coroners Office had failed to inform family members that as many as 4000 body parts from as far back as the 1970's had been kept for study after their loved one's body had been returned following a coroner's autopsy. As a reader wrote the Globe and Mail: "A crime survivor has no choice when a coroner's office retains a loved one's body for autopsy. It is an order. Survivors have long expected to trust the coroner was performing autopsies in the best interest of family, to provide answers. They also expected that a loved one was returned intact."
From my point of view, this disclosure is a welcome sign that Ontario has learned from the mistakes of a previous era symbolized by the misdeeds of former doctor Charles Smith and top officials of the Chief Coroner's Office who were found by the Goudge Inquiry into many of Smith's cases to have been more concerned about protecting the reputation of their office than about protecting the public. It is also a welcome sign that the Chief Coroner's Office, headed by Dr. Andrew McCallum - which could have kept the public oblivious to the existence of the 4000 body parts - is committed to transparency in its bid to regain public trust.

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.


STORY: "Province apologizes for keeping body parts after autopsies without telling families," by reporter Valerie Hauch, published in the Toronto Star on June 13, 2012.

"The province has apologized for not telling family members organs have been kept for study after a loved one’s body has been returned following a coroner’s autopsy. There may currently be as many as 4,000 such organs in medical storage, says Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist. The practice has been going on for “as long as autopsies have been carried out,’’ he told a news conference Wednesday. “While today’s announcement is difficult for some to hear, we believe that sharing information about this historical issue is the right thing to do,’’ he said, adding that the rationale had been to spare families “further grief.’’ “Times have changed and so has our approach to communicating with bereaved families. When an organ must be retained we now discuss it openly,” Pollanen said........ The Ontario Coroners Act gives coroners the authority to order an autopsy as part of a death investigation — usually in case of murder, suicide or an unusual death. The government added Regulation 180 to the act on June 14, 2010, which requires authorities to tell relatives if the body parts were to be retained for further examination and also ask what their wishes were for final disposition. Since that regulation came into effect, Pollanen said, it was decided that families of those who underwent coroner’s autopsies before June 14, 2010, should be informed that the government may have body parts in storage. Some of the 4,000 organs retained from autopsies date back as late as the 1970s, said Pollanen. There’s no way of knowing how many organs may have been kept in total over the years. But he believes that those already disposed of would have been done “respectfully.’’ With advancements in medical technology, there is less need to retain organs for further study, he said."

The story can be found at:



"Ontario inviting families to inquire about organ retention: Affects coroner-warranted autopsies before June 14, 2010.

Ontario's Chief Forensic Pathologist and Chief Coroner are reaching out to those who lost a family member in Ontario before June 14, 2010, resulting in a coroner's investigation and autopsy.

For decades, retaining organs as part of an autopsy was standard practice, and information shared with bereaved families was sometimes limited in an attempt to spare them further grief. As a result, there are some families who may not have been notified that an organ was retained for testing to help determine the cause of death.

Now, under Regulation 180 of the Coroners Act, families are routinely notified when an organ is retained and their wishes regarding final disposition of the organ are sought wherever possible.

Immediate family members and personal representatives (i.e. those responsible for administering an estate) are invited to contact the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service and the Office of the Chief Coroner at 1-855-564-4122 or send an email to to find out if an organ was retained in their case. Affected families and personal representatives may request that the organ be sent to a funeral home for cremation or burial, at the expense of the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service and the Office of the Chief Coroner.

On June 14, 2013, remaining organs retained before June 10, 2010, will be respectfully disposed of in accordance with Regulation 180 made under the Coroners Act.

Ontario's Chief Forensic Pathologist and Chief Coroner are committed to helping families get the answers they need.


  • This announcement only pertains to autopsies that were ordered by a coroner as part of a thorough death investigation before June 14, 2010, and does not include routine hospital autopsies.
  • Coroners investigate approximately 17,000 deaths in Ontario each year - approximately 6,000 of those investigations require an autopsy.
  • The Coroners Act gives coroners the authority to order that an autopsy be conducted as part of a death investigation. Death investigations not only allow us to answer questions about the circumstances of the individual's death; they can also help to prevent similar deaths from occurring.
  • Since June 14, 2010, all coroners and pathologists must obtain permission from the Chief Forensic Pathologist or designate to retain an organ for further examination.

The release can be found at:



I am monitoring these issues. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments.

The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:

Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at:

Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.